Winner’s Way represents in Sunday’s Sha Tin feature

Winner’s Way will attempt to become the latest from last season’s smart four-year-old crop to take a stride toward the elite grades when he lines up in Sunday’s (10 September) Sha Tin feature, the Class 1 Kwangtung Handicap Cup (1400m).

Winner’s Way represents in Sunday’s Sha Tin feature

Winner’s Way will attempt to become the latest from last season’s smart four-year-old crop to take a stride toward the elite grades when he lines up in Sunday’s (10 September) Sha Tin feature, the Class 1 Kwangtung Handicap Cup (1400m).

Hong Kong Classic Mile runner-up Seasons Bloom kicked off the current campaign with an impressive show in last week’s HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup that prompted talk of Group 1 targets, and now the horse that finished two spots behind him in that four-year-old classic will try to follow suit.

Jockey Zac Purton, circumspect in his appraisal, believes nonetheless that Winner’s Way’s prospects are better than fair. “He’s got the potential to take another step,” the former champion said before barrier trials at Sha Tin this morning (Friday, 8 September). “Whether he gets to that level, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Winner’s Way won four of 10 starts during his debut Hong Kong season, and filled the runner-up berth three times. He rounded out the campaign with a smart second to Thewizardofoz in June’s G3 Premier Cup Handicap at the course and distance: a respectable first foray into Pattern grade.

“He’d always shown that he had some ability and he’d been a bit erratic in his races and done some things wrong, but towards the end of last season he decided to start putting it together and when he does put it together he’s a decent horse,” Purton said.

The rider was in the plate for Winner’s Way’s latest barrier trial on 29 August. The Tony Cruz-trained gelding passed the post half a length clear in that 1200m dirt track tune-up, clocking a time of 1m 11.09s without being pressured.

“I thought his barrier trial was pretty good,” Purton revealed. “It was the first piece of serious work he’d done this season and he was always going to improve off it. He went out there and did his thing, and he seemed to be moving quite well.”

Winner’s Way will carry 128lb in the select eight-runner feature, the same as his stablemate and reliable Group-race yardstick, Romantic Touch. The Tony Millard-trained Horse Of Fortune, a two-time G3 winner at 1800m and capable at 1400m, will carry top-weight of 133lb, while another G3 scorer from last season, Supreme Profit, will have 113lb on his back.

“Whenever you get up in this grade they’re always competitive races and this one is no different. There are a few horses there with a bit of a chance and it’s just going to depend on how the race is run. I’m sure it’ll be a good finish,” Purton added.

Also in the field are two horses that posted sound runs in defeat last Sunday. The David Hall-trained Solar Hei Hei (113lb) was second to Mongolian King in a course and distance Class 2 and is once again set to have apprentice Matthew Poon knock off an extra 7lb; the John Moore-trained Magic Legend, meanwhile, was a running-on fourth in the HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup and backs up over an extra furlong.

“It wasn’t the plan to back-up but Tommy got off and said he was just looking for 1400,” Moore said of Magic Legend. “He’s eaten up and is in good heart so everything looks well. He hit a flat spot last weekend but then kicked on - Tommy said he’d lost his early speed.”

Banner’s ready to unfurl

Jolly Banner is also among the Kwangtung Handicap Cup’s smart octet. A consistent performer at the course and distance for trainer Ricky Yiu, the useful bay has four wins from 11 starts at the Sha Tin 1400m, with a further five top three finishes to his credit.

Chad Schofield, with two wins from four rides atop the Lonhro six-year-old, is back in the plate for the first time since March and believes the Australian-bred has plenty going for him.

“I’m happy to be back on him,” he said. “We know he likes to be fresh and that’s what he’ll be on the weekend. He’s drawn a nice gate (four), he’s well-weighted; he’s been carrying some big weights but he won’t have to carry very much at the weekend and he’s had a very impressive trial leading into it.”

That trial, a 1200m all-weather hit-out on 30 August, saw Jolly Banner dash home ahead of the rest.

“When I pulled him to the outside he closed and hit the line very strongly. He looks great, his coat’s shining and he’s fit to run a good a race,” Schofield said.

And the young hoop believes Jolly Banner might have the measure of Winner’s Way, despite finishing a length and two places behind the Cruz runner when fourth in the G3 Premier Cup Handicap last time out. Jolly Banner received 5lb from Winner’s Way on that occasion but on Sunday will carry 9lb less than that rival. And there is a full 15lb turnaround between the two from the race before, at Happy Valley, when Jolly Banner conceded 6lb to the victorious Winner’s Way but had to settle for second, three and a half lengths back.

“He’s got the weight advantage to turn it around and he might have been a bit tired when he met Winner’s Way at Happy Valley,” Schofield observed. “My bloke’s very well, he’s in top form, he’s getting a lot of weight off Winner’s Way, we know how hard he tries and he’ll be there giving his all.”

Igniting the spark

Sunday’s 10-race card will also feature the promising Pingwu Spark’s second Hong Kong start in race nine, the Class 3 Chaozhou Handicap (1200m). Benno Yung’s charge caught the eye on debut late last season and again when close-up in a potent barrier trial at the pre-season Owners’ Carnival.

The strapping grey ran on gamely despite debut greenness to finish second behind Marvel Tribe in a Class 3 at the course and distance in early June. And his most recent barrier trial, down the 1000m turf straight, saw Pingwu Spark cruise past the post in fourth. That put him just behind HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup winner Seasons Bloom and Wednesday night’s Happy Valley Class 2 scorer Convincible, with G1 Sprinters Stakes-bound Blizzard ahead of them all.

“The trial was strong and the form has worked out,” jockey Derek Leung said. “The horses that finished around him are proven Class 1 or Class 2 horses and two of them have already won this season. At that time he was still quite fat, being a big horse, so he needed that but he’s come on for it, he’s fresh and I think he will run well.

“He’s improving all the time,” he continued. “He’s a big horse, he’s about 1300 pounds and he needs space to relax and find his rhythm. I’ve drawn one so hopefully he can jump fast, get out, and travel smoothly without too many horses around him.”

Leung suggested that an unsuitable pace pattern and inexperience probably cost the Benno Yung-trained five-year-old a debut win.

“He ran well on his first start, but after they crossed him they slowed the pace and he was a bit keen,” he said. “He’s a horse with a big action, so I had to switch him out to get more room. The pace wasn’t suitable for him in that race, but he’s an honest horse, he always tries his best.

“He learned a lot from that experience and the way he feels in the morning, I think he’ll be suited by 1400 (metres) or even a mile, but I think he can handle 1200m first-up.”

Sunday’s action commences at 12.35pm with the Class 4 Maoming Handicap (1200m) and concludes with the Class 3 Dongguan Handicap (1200m) at 5.45pm. The afternoon also features two simulcast races from Korea, the Keeneland Korea Sprint (2.30pm) and the Keeneland Korea Cup (3.35pm), featuring Hong Kong contenders Lucky Year and Circuit Land, respectively.


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