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Temperament crucial as Massive Sovereign takes aim at 147th BMW Hong Kong Derby

Tue 19th Mar 2024, 12:54

Massive SovereignMassive Sovereign

By Declan Schuster

Massive Sovereign burst onto the scene earlier this month and Zac Purton believes the Irish-bred’s ability to quickly adapt to different circumstances can prove decisive in Sunday’s (24 March) HK$26 million 147th BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) at Sha Tin.

The four-year-old demolished a solid Class 3 field on debut in Hong Kong over this weekend’s course and distance. He’ll make just his second start in the city when he lines up in Sha Tin’s most-famed and desired contest after arriving as a two-time winner in Ireland for trainer Aidan O’Brien.

“What he has got going for him is his temperament, he’s just a lovely horse to do anything with — he’s very relaxed and he takes everything in his stride,” Purton said.

Formerly known as Broadhurst but now trained by Dennis Yip, Massive Sovereign made light work of 13 rivals at Sha Tin on 3 March — who between them had combined for 23 wins in Hong Kong — to surge into BMW Hong Kong Derby calculations.

“I think it’s going to work in his favour that he has already had a run over the 2000 metres because he knows where the barriers are and he knows what the crowd is going to do. He’s already had that experience and a lot of horses on Derby Day can get a bit wound up by the crowd at the start. So, he’s had the benefit of going through that process already,” Purton said.

The BMW Hong Kong Derby fixture regularly draws a crowd of over 50,000 at Sha Tin.

Purton partnered the gelding this morning (Tuesday, 19 March) on the turf at Sha Tin under light rain as Yip watched on meticulously, clocking 26.2s, 28.5s, 24.2s (1m 18.9s).

“He’s a very relaxed horse. He just does what you ask him to do, the work partner (Travel Golf) just went off and he gave me something to follow. Every time I clicked him up a little bit, he found a little bit more until we joined him on the line.

“He had a little bit of a blow when we pulled up which will bring him on a little, just to clean him out and he won’t have to do too much between now and the race,” Purton said.

Purton won the 2015 BMW Hong Kong Derby aboard Luger. He has placed in the race seven times, finishing third aboard Dibayani (2014), Beauty Generation (2017), Exultant (2018), More Than This (2020) and Beauty Eternal (2023), while he was a close second on Victory Magic (2016) and California Spangle (2022) — both horses missed once-in-a-lifetime glory by a head.

“It’s been a frustrating race for me. The number of times I’ve been beaten by small margins is incredible, I could easily be standing here having won five or six times if a few of those photos had gone my way or if I had just been on the better horse,” Purton said. “I keep running into something that’s better all of the time. For me, it’s been a really frustrating race but I get another chance and hopefully I can win another one.”

The superstar jockey has won six riding titles and 1,689 races in Hong Kong. Although optimistic ahead of this weekend, he is still wary of the task at hand.

“History is against him. It’s extremely hard for any PP (Privately Purchased Horse) to win first time out in Hong Kong. It’s even harder to do it at the distance that he did it at and then it’s even harder again to back that performance up and he has to do it in the Derby, so he has all of that against him,” Purton said.

Both the HK$13 million Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) and HK$13 million Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) were won by Helios Express, who will look to emulate Rapper Dragon (2017) and Golden Sixty (2020) with a Four-Year-Old Classic Series clean-sweep.

“It looks like it’s going to be a really slowly run race. They walked in the Classic Mile, they walked in the Classic Cup and there’s nothing there that tells us they’re going to go any quicker in the Derby, and it’s meant to rain on Friday, Saturday and possibly Sunday.

“If the track happens to be wet and soft then they just go even slower again, so I think his (Massive Sovereign) temperament at whatever speed is going to allow him to relax and that will give him a chance to run the trip, whereas some of the other horses in the race have a tendency to want to overdo it and that could work against them. Hopefully that works in our favour,” Purton said.

Sunday’s pairing with Massive Sovereign will be Purton’s 14th ride in the BMW Hong Kong Derby. His first came aboard Legend Of Colour in 2009 for former trainer Paul O’Sullivan.

“It’d be nice to win another one. I feel like I deserve it after all of the efforts I’ve put in,” he said.

Purton currently leads this season’s jockeys’ standings with an unmatched 79 wins.