HK racing gets off to a big bang

It was another day of records at Sha Tin racecourse on Sunday, opening day of the new Hong Kong season.

The racing season got off to "more than a dream start" beneath golden sunshine.

Hong Kong SAR Acting Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet Ngor struck the ceremonial gong to mark the start of the campaign, and for the second year in a row, record-breaking turnover was matched by an all-time high attendance for the day.

"We have enjoyed another great start to a new season - more than a dream start," said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Chief Executive Officer.

"Moreover, we have had the highest turnover at a season opening in 20 years at HK$1.032 billion ($170 million), which is 11 per cent more than a year ago.

"Last year, we had the highest openingday attendance in 20 years. This year, we have surpassed that with 66,257 race fans generating a fantastic atmosphere at our two racecourses.

"To put that into perspective, today's crowd figure is up more than four per cent on last year and represents the first time that our opening-day crowd at Sha Tin has broken the 60,000 mark.

"Compared with 2010, when we started the Racecourse Master Plan, we have seen an opening-day attendance increase of 37 per cent."

Engelbrecht-Bresges expressed cautious optimism about the season ahead and thanked race fans for their support, which he said was the "impetus for continuous racecourse investment".

The CEO also applauded the new innovations that have been implemented for this season under the club's ongoing Racecourse Master Plan and revealed that the latest round of developments were the subject of "very positive feedback from members and race fans".

The day's sport saw Zac Purton team up with Cerise Cherry to take the feature race, the Class 1 HKSAR Chief Executive's Cup.

The Australian, who won the $3 million Singapore Airlines International Cup aboard Military Attack, was notching his second successive win in the 1,200m contest, having arrived late and fast atop Supreme Win to deny the wilting Cerise Cherry by a shorthead in last season's race.

Having been beaten 12 months ago, trainer Derek Cruz turned to Purton this time and last season's jockeys' premiership runner-up made no mistake.

After stalking in sixth position, Purton angled out the eight-year-old at the top of the stretch and ran home strongly to score by ¾ length in 1min 08.48sec.

The Tony Cruz-trained Best Eleven was second, 1¼ lengths ahead of race favourite, Destined For Glory.

Said Derek: "We were unlucky last season.

We just hit the front too early, so I told Zac to just take a seat on him and give him a chance. He gave a very good kick in the straight.

"He ran very well last year and I'll get him freshened up again for those big races. "He can run the same race again. I just need to keep him running fresh and keep away from running him in too many races at a time because he can taper off."

New boy Karis Teetan got his Hong Kong career off to the best possible start.

The Mauritian-born lightweight looked strong in the finish as he drove the David Ferraris-trained Amazing Always to a ½-length victory in the first race of the season, the Class 5 Tim Mei Handicap.

Tony Cruz was also on fire as the trainer registered a first-race treble with Roman Legend, Majestic Anthem and Beauty Sparkle - the last two partnered by Matthew Chadwick.

Purton also made it a double in the last race on Fair Trade.

Last season's champion apprentice Dicky Lui notched a brace too, while champion jockey Douglas Whyte kicked off with a win on the well-supported Clement Spirit.

Not to be left out, Dennis Yip ensured all of last year's champions made a good start as the champion trainer took the ninth race with Jun Gong.

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