By Leo Schlink, HKJC
Happy Valley sprint specialist Grateful Heart has built an almost impregnable buffer in the DBS x Manulife Million Challenge after a fourth victory at the city circuit propelled the Australian import to an imposing lead in the HK$1 million series.
Perfectly ridden by Zac Purton, Danny Shum’s speedster posted his first victory over 1000m to pocket 15 points in the Million Challenge to have 66 points overall – a lead of 24 points.
Victory in the Class 2 Cheung Sha Wan Handicap (1000m) also delivered a HK$1 million High Achievement Bonus for Grateful Heart’s owners. The bonus is available – on a one-off basis – to horses with a minimum rating of 80 who win a Class 2 contest.
A son of Written Tycoon, Grateful Heart boosted his earnings to HK$5,305,000 after only 10 starts with Wednesday night’s winners’ prizemoney and bonus.
The Million Challenge is open to horses who contest Class 3 races or above from 9 September 2020 until 24 February 2021.
Scores Of Fun (42), who collected four points when third to Capital Star on Wednesday night, and Delightful Laos (39) have faint mathematical chances of catching Grateful Heart.
But Shum is certain his sprinter has all but secured the HK$650,000 first prize and could attempt to secure overall victory by chasing a fifth win in six starts on 24 February – if Purton is available.
“He’s a nice horse. I think he’s got the Million Challenge already, he’s too high, the second horse (Scores Of Fun) is too far back,” Shum beamed. “He’s good, he’s fast and he’s very suitable for Happy Valley.”
Purton echoed Shum’s thoughts.
“He’s obviously very quick and there were some fast horses in that race and even though he didn’t begin the cleanest, he was still right up there from the gate,” the reigning champion jockey said.
“He could have led easily but I was happy for him to travel outside the leader (Multimillion).
“He gave me a good kick – the horse has learnt a lot. He wouldn’t change his leg before but he’s learnt to do that – Danny has done a good job with him.
“The win certainly puts him in a good place now (for the Million Challenge).”
Multimillion fought on doggedly for second ahead Shining Ace as Joao Moreira (84) tightened his hold on the jockeys’ championship with a quartet, extending his lead over Zac Purton (57) to 27.
Grateful Heart’s success gave Purton a double after he earlier combined with David Hall’s Classic Posh in the first section of the Class 4 Shek Kip Mei Handicap (1200m) but it was another dominant meeting for Moreira.
Manfred Man’s patience with King Dragon was rewarded in the Class 4 Stonecutters Island Handicap (1650m) as the Savabeel gelding broke through under Moreira at his 17th Hong Kong start.
“I’m very happy because Joao didn’t give up on him after his last run,” Man said referring to King Dragon’s last-start third.
“He still wanted to ride him again and he won for us. His rating is still ok, so hopefully he still can win (again).”
Moreira also partnered with Dennis Yip and Hercules to success in the second section of the Class 4 Shek Kip Mei Handicap (1200m) before teaming up with John Size and Incanto Prepared to win the Class 3 Sham Shui Po Handicap (1650m).
Size moved to 38 wins for the 2020/21 term – just two shy of Caspar Fownes, who claimed the second section of the Class 3 Lai Chi Kok Handicap (1200m) with Capital Star, the fourth of Moreira’s quartet.
Hong Kong racing continues at Sha Tin on Saturday (6 February