Australia’s first hope of securing Group 1 success at this year’s Royal Ascot Carnival in England failed overnight with Paul Messara’s Al Quoz Sprint winner Ortensia finishing midfield behind upset winner Little Bridge.
Ortensia started favourite in the £350,000 Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m), the fourth leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, but failed to make an impression in the big 23 horse field that was dominated by the Danny Shum-trained Hong Kong galloper Little Bridge.
Coming into contention with 300-metres left to travel Ortensia, ridden by the brilliant Craig Williams, failed to produce her usual turn of foot on the soft Royal Ascot track and couldn’t match the late burst of her rivals.
Winning Faltaat six-year-old Little Bridge meanwhile secured their third victory on the trot having previously won back-to-back races at Sha Tin including the Group 2 The Sprint Cup (1200m) last time out.
The New Zealand-bred Little Bridge was ridden by expat Aussie hoop Zac Purton, giving those back home something to cheer about even in the face of Ortensia’s loss, and was the first NZ-bred horse in history to win the King’s Stand.
Based in Hong Kong for the past five years Purton hails from Queensland and gave Little Bridge a flawless ride.
The eventual winner and his hoop hit the front in the King’s Stand at the 200-metre mark and on the line Little Bridge ($13) had three quarters of a length to spare over top local sprinter Bated Breath, with Al Quoz runner-up Sole Power finishing off the King’s Stand Stakes trifecta.
Purton was thrilled with the result of his first ride in England crediting the talent of the horse and tipping Little Bridge, who has now won 10 of their 20 career starts, for greatness.
“He’s up there with the best I’ve been on and he’s given me a great thrill,” Purton said.
“It means everything to me to come here and ride a winner.
“It’s every jockey’s dream to ride a winner at Royal Ascot.
“When the gates opened he sprung almost two lengths clear and spent the first 200 metres with his ears pricked taking it all in.
“I have ridden him enough times to know what I had under me so when we got to the 200 metre mark and I pushed the button I knew there would be something there.
“This horse has really come on in the last six months and we came here confident that he would put in a good performance.
“It was hard to gauge the form around the European horses but we knew he was capable of being right there in the finish.”
Little Bridge’s trainer Shum was also over the moon with the win, saying that a trip to Japan in September was next on the agenda.
“He instilled a lot of confidence in me after his final gallop in Newmarket coming into the race,” Shum said.
“Zac Purton rode him in that gallop and said he went very well so we were confident he would run a good race.
“We will give the horse two days rest and then put him into quarantine in preparation for his trip back to Hong Kong. We will now look to take him to Japan in September.”
Little Bridge was purchased for a steal by Margaret Harkema for just $9,000 at the 2007 National Weanling Sale in New Zealand.
They have now amassed over $2 million in career prize money.
The King’s Stand Stakes results are considered a strong guide to Saturday’ £500,000 Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m) where Australia’s turf darling Black Caviar will vie for her incredible 22nd straight career win.
Black Caviar continues to dominate Diamond Jubilee odds at Aussie bookmakers at an odds-on quote of around $1.25.
Updated Diamond Jubilee Stakes betting markets at bookmaker.com.au following the King’s Stand Stakes are due for release shortly.
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