For the second year running, Zac Purton is preparing to ride Hong Kong's Horse of the Year at horseracing's great end-of-year occasion, the HK$72 million Hong Kong International Races. Whereas 2012 brought a stunning victory for Purton on Ambitious Dragon in the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile, this time the Aussie ace is relying on that champion's successor, Military Attack, to deliver the goods in the Group 1Hong Kong Cup.
The about 1 1/4-mile contest is the oldest of the four Group 1 races that comprise the Turf World Championships, and to many it is the 100-carat diamond among that glittering quartet. The past two renewals have gone to Hong Kong's gray hero, California Memory, but with his hat-trick bid scuppered by a setback, the hopes of Hong Kong rest primarily upon the John Moore-trained Military Attack, one of eight horses at the event rated among the elite top 50 in the World's Best Racehorse Rankings.
Purton rode the five-year-old Oratorio gelding in a final work-out on the Sha Tin all-weather Friday morning and was pleased with his effort in covering about six furlongs in 1:23.1.
"It wasn't especially hard work," the current runaway Hong Kong premiership leader said. "It was just to keep him ticking over to the race because he had a serious gallop on Tuesday. He pulled up well, he went through the gears well, he was very clean in the wind, and he's moving well, so I'm just looking forward to Sunday."
Moore was equally pleased with the workout as he seeks a second win in the race. Hong Kong's winning-most handler took the 1993 version of the contest with Motivation.
"I couldn't have him any fitter than he is for the grand final," he said. "I've got him covering the last 200 meters (about a furlong) in :12.5, so that put the icing on the cake and now we're ready."
Purton and Moore are less than enthused about owner Steven Lo's star being berthed in gate 9 on Sunday, but while Moore referred to it as "awkward" and Purton as "not ideal," neither sees it as a major hindrance.
"I was hoping to draw better than that but it looks like there's good speed in the race and that suits us," Purton said. "It's on the 'A' course and being a race that's later on the card, we have an opportunity to see how the races play out during the day -- then we can decide what we're going to do."
This time last year, Military Attack went into the Cup as an unproven prospect after a little more than a year in Hong Kong. A deflating ninth in the Jockey Club Mile completed his two-race lead-up to the Cup, in which he ran home a fair fifth. Since then, the British import has stamped himself as a class act with a series of wins that culminated in an international Group 1 brace last spring -- the QEII Cup at the course and distance and the SIA Cup in Singapore.
That late-season improvement has led some commentators and observers to suggest that Military Attack could be a "spring horse" but that is a theory Moore refutes.
"He is now settled into Hong Kong and he is totally acclimatized, whereas last year he wasn't and it took a little while to get right. Now he is used to things here, I don't think he will be a seasonal sort of horse, I think he will just keep improving up to Dubai and Singapore."
Moore is adamant that improvement will come, and in that there is perhaps a miniscule note of caution, as the trainer feels that his two-race prep this year has been one race less than he would have wished.
"I think there will definitely be more improvement to come because it hasn't been the ideal prep leading into this," he revealed. "It would have been nice to get one more run into him but that wasn't possible unless we got him going very early on in the season."
Whether ideal or not, Military Attack heads into Sunday off a sound third in the Jockey Club Cup on November 17, 1 3/4 lengths behind Endowing and Hong Kong's other big Cup contender Akeed Mofeed. Both were in receipt of five pounds from Hong Kong's undercooked champ that day and that turnaround, combined with added race sharpness, could see Purton sitting pretty passing the winning post once more atop a reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year.