New Zealand-bred galloper Columbus County (NZ) (Redwood) struck a blow for Zac Purton and this year’s BMW Hong Kong Derby crop with a victory full of promise in the Class 2 Hong Kong Reunification Cup Handicap (1800m) at Sha Tin on Wednesday.
Purton saw title rival Joao Moreira bag a brace that ate into his championship lead in the first half of the card, but hit back in the feature to hold an end-of-day advantage of 138 wins to the Brazilian’s 133.
“Zac and Joao both ride a lot of horses for me and I wish them both the best,” Columbus County’s trainer Caspar Fownes said. “Right now, Zac has the advantage, especially with Joao having a one-meeting suspension coming up next week, but Hong Kong racing is so tough that for both of them to get the number of winners they’ve achieved so far is incredible.
“I wish both of them the best; hopefully it can go down to the last day and may the best man win.”
Columbus County belatedly broke his Hong Kong maiden at the seventh attempt, having performed a shade disappointingly when ninth to Golden Sixty (Medaglia D’Oro) in the BMW Hong Kong Derby back in March. Fownes’ four-year-old is only the second horse out of the blue riband to have won a race subsequently, but both handler and rider hold positive expectations for the future.
“He’s typical of PPs (Privately Purchased horses) coming here on a high rating, they take a bit of time to acclimatize sometimes,” Purton noted.
“He didn’t quite measure up in the Derby but he had a nice little break and seems to have come back better. He still feels like hasn’t developed properly so I think there’s more there.”
Fownes echoed the three-time champion jockey’s assessment of the New Zealand import, who ran third in the Gr.2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) when known as Sword In Stone.
“Going forward, this horse, probably next calendar year, we’ll start to see better things from him,” the trainer said.
“I think he’s a horse that’s going to get to a 110 rating, and he’ll get even further in distance. He’s a nice horse and if he can put on another 40 or 50 pounds in body-weight, then he’ll be well-suited to Hong Kong.
“He’s been good and raced consistently all season, and I’m sure the summer break will help him a lot to develop further.”
Bred by Shannon Taylor (nee Mayers) and her father Dave Mayers, Columbus County was originally sold as a yearling through Bradbury Park’s 2017 New Zealand Bloodstock Yearling draft when purchased by Stephen Gray for $33,000.
He had three starts in New Zealand for former trainer Lauren Brennan for a win and two placings.