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Victor The Winner snares Centenary Sprint Cup for Shum, Leung as Purton rides six winners

January 29, 2024 at 3:01:24 AM

Victor The Winner could embark on an ambitious overseas campaign after the lightly-raced speedster upstaged decorated opposition, including Lucky Sweynesse and Wellington, with convincing victory in the HK$13 million G1 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (28 January).

Victor The Winner could embark on an ambitious overseas campaign after the lightly-raced speedster upstaged decorated opposition, including Lucky Sweynesse and Wellington, with convincing victory in the HK$13 million G1 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (28 January).

Jumping from barrier 10, the 37/1 chance forged straight to the lead for Derek Leung and strode virtually unchallenged through a leisurely first 400m of the race, clocking 24.30s, before accelerating from the home turn and building an unassailable lead.

Clocking 22.18s for the final 400m, Victor The Winner prevailed by a length and three-quarters from Lucky With You, while Wellington was a further half length away in third place. Lucky Sweynesse, who ambled from the gates and was trapped behind a wall of runners to be 11th with 400m left to run, produced the fastest final sectional of 21.98s but was never a winning chance.

“He (Lucky Sweynesse) didn’t jump slow, but he couldn’t get into stride and then when the horses got in front of him and backed the speed right off, that made it impossible from where we were,” jockey Zac Purton said. “So, he just lost it in the first part of the race.”

It was a rare rebuttal for Purton on Sunday, when the Australian dominated the undercard with six winners – Nicholson Returns, Ace Victory, Beato, Gorgeous Win, Sweet Encounter and Green N White – but it was unquestionably Leung’s time to shine as the homegrown talent tasted Group 1 success for the first time since Beauty Generation’s 2017 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m) victory.

“It feels great. Thank you for the opportunity from the owner and the trainer. We draw an outside gate, but we flew out of the gate, so (we) took advantage and just went forward – he was quite relaxed after that and at the 500m, I knew he was going to kick very strong. Very lucky, it was a win,” Leung said.

Asked if he was surprised to have led as easily, Leung said: “Very lucky. It could not be better.”

Shum, who savoured G1 W.S. Cox Plate (2040m) and G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m) victories with Romantic Warrior, said Leung had followed instructions perfectly.

“His pace for the first (sectional) was absolutely great, he did it in 24 something (seconds). I’m very happy for the stable, the owner and Derek as well,” Shum said. “When he got a good lead, I thought he had a chance. He’s tough and very good in front.”

Shum said he would consider a tilt at the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) at Chukyo Racecourse, Japan on 24 March.

“I entered him in Japan over 1200m, so I will see how he pulls up and then decide if I keep him in Hong Kong or send him to Japan in March,” Shum said. “I’ve considered Japan for a long time, because it’s a left-hand turn. In the morning, his left-hand turn is better than his right-hand turn, so we have to give him a chance overseas.”

Purton leads the Hong Kong jockeys’ championships with 61 wins – 21 clear of Karis Teetan (40) and Hugh Bowman (30).

The Australian’s spree began with David Hall’s Nicholson Returns in the Class 4 Fu Tai Handicap (2000m) before he sealed an early double when Benno Yung’s Ace Victory crossed from barrier 12 to find the rail in the first section of the Class 4 On Ting Handicap (1200m).

The six-time champion jockey’s domination continued with Tony Cruz’s Beato in the Class 4 Yan Oi Tong Cup Handicap (1600m) before Danny Shum-trained Gorgeous Win presented the Australian with his fourth spoil of the afternoon with a convincing win in the Class 3 Tai Hing Handicap (1200m).

Purton then teamed with John Size’s Sweet Encounter in the Class 3 Yan Tin Handicap (1600m) before he closed the meeting as he started it when Ricky Yiu’s Green N White – a BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) nomination – crowned a fabulous day for the Australian.

“It’s good (the six-timer) – it’s been a bit of a grind through the season so far. There have been a number of factors behind that but hopefully the second half of the season can be a bit stronger, like it was today,” Purton said.

David Hall also completed a brace when Andrea Atzeni piloted Champion Instinct to victory in the second section of the Class 4 On Ting Handicap (1200m), Hong Kong International Sale graduate Smart Beauty broke through for his first win with success under Angus Chung in the Class 5 Lung Yat Handicap (1600m) for Tony Cruz and Chris So’s Panda Legend scored in the Class 4 Po Tin Handicap (1400m) under Keagan De Melo.

Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (31 January).

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