ZAC PURTON AND FINE-TUNING THAT ZAC ATTACK
What many are wondering is what, where and when was the turning point that had Zac Purton go from being a good jockey to a global trotting superstar rider taking all before him whenever the opportunities have presented themselves.
Before coming to Hong Kong in 2007, Zac Purton was a work in progress- a young jockey with enormous untapped potential, who, said those who claimed to know, someone who had more time for riding the surf than riding horses.
Speak to Purton about this supposed rabid passion to ride the waves- and, apparently with “good mate” Damien Oliver-and he’ll laugh.
“I was never a surfer as I hate being cold, so I’m not sure why this one keeps popping up,” he says in that matter-of-fact voice that one has by now come to expect. It’s all water off a duck’s back to a bloke who is so nonchalant, it might come across as arrogance.
Thinking back and even thinking about today, the stories- the rumours, the gossip, the innuendos- one hears from those with even a very peripheral part to play with racing in Australia is quite extraordinary.
The expression, “Get A Life” clangs through one’s brain like Quasimodo ringing those bells when hearing “the mail” where the postman doesn’t only always rings twice. The poor bugger is busy 24/7 delivering “mail”.
As for Zac Purton, a key moment in creating the new, improved Zac Attack model came when he won the 2012 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot on the gutsy little Danny Shum-trained galloper Little Bridge.
As he says, “Having ridden him from his first start to being able to win at Royal Ascot was a special moment. He has been my favorite horse in Hong Kong.”
That win and the importance of the occasion was probably the impetus and confidence boost- and Purton, today, certainly doesn’t lack confidence- that he needed. Or, maybe it was the break and inspiration to realise that potential is one thing. Realising this potential is something else and thus started a gifted young rider growing up fast.
As with everyone, growing up means making mistakes as learning curves are never up and down and straight forward.
All the time, it’s about improving one’s self- and, as a jockey based in Hong Kong, this needs to happen both on and off the track.
To reach where he is today on the track, Zac Purton has spent the last three seasons working harder and harder, improving those god-given talents and forming strong, loyal associations.
Caspar Fownes, for example, used him sparingly as, initially, luck seemed to desert the pair. But then, suddenly, things clicked into place. The chair must have been turned around to face the north or he might have shaved his head, but the fung shui was good. And when Brett Prebble, who was almost his stable jockey, was late returning to Hong Kong for the 2013-2014 season, Fownes turned to Purton, the winners came thick and fast and a mutual admiration society was formed.
Speaking about their partnership, Purton makes no bones about his appreciation of it: “Getting the extra support from Cas, and both of us being able to win our titles together last year was a great end to an exciting season.”
Ironically, he might not have had, or still have, the support of fellow Aussies John Size, David Hall and John Moore, but, apart from Fownes, Purton forged a strong partnership with the powerful Dennis Yip stable, the trainer having once thrown his support behind Douglas Whyte and Brett Prebble.
Purton was a key factor in the local trainer winning his first championship in the 2012-2013 season. Yip reciprocated by backing him with winning rides which helped him take out his first Jockey Premiership last season.
“Dennis was the first major stable to give me support,” he says. “It came along at the right time, and he’s been a good support system for me ever since. I was thrilled when he won the trainers championship.”
At that time, when speaking to Dennis Yip, he mentioned how he and the jockey knew each other so well that often there was no need to speak, and how it was all about trust and team work.
In Hong Kong, it’s often off-the-track where the men are separated from the boys, and here, Purton has shifted gears and grown up.
In a city of big spending Chinese owners who entertain their business associates in five-star hotels and the most exclusive clubs and restaurants in town, image is almost everything where style and good personal skills are expected from those jockeys who have reached that exclusive rock star status.
It’s called being a Class Act and something Douglas Whyte probably put into motion and which ensured him ruling the roost for thirteen magnificent years and continuing his legendary status through communication skills par excellence.
Here, the supposed former “surfie” in Zac Purton has watched, absorbed, and smartened up understanding the importance in how one presents themselves.
It’s not being superficial. It’s just how every business in Hong Kong rolls. And horse racing in Hong Kong is very big business and part of the city’s lifestyle and DNA.
After his win on Saturday aboard the Japanese owned and trained Admire Rakti in the Caulfield Cup, the Australian-born Purton mentioned to the racing media that all his opportunities have come from his Asian connections- and not from those in his homeland.
It’s hardly surprising. It’s all part of the paradigm and power shift running through the global racing world.
Whereas the big British stables are owned and controlled by Middle Eastern “sheikh your money makers”, the new wave of cash-rich horse owners are Chinese- Mainland Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese and Singaporean Chinese- owners making their presence felt in the Australian racing industry at every major horse sale, and as witnessed by the purchases of Lindsay Park and Eliza Park by Pan Sutong and Sun Racing International, respectively, whereas what happens in Japan usually stays in Japan.
Apart from their yakatori results when tackling the Arc, whenever The Land Of The Rising Sun sends their equine troops to foreign soil, it’s usually, Sayonara to everyone else.
Is Admiral Rakti, a champion stayer? After its win on Saturday, outside of Japan, yes. In the Japan Cup- its main target- it probably wouldn’t even be in the top fifteen, all of which underlines the depth and quality of Japan’s equine talent in probably THE most passionate racing market in the world.
Purton, who has quickly built up a good relationship with the country’s most powerful owners including the Yoshida racing dynasty, represents Hong Kong in their Super Jockey Series at the end of November and then rides in the Japan Derby, is well aware of the might and power of the Japanese racing industry and what even playing a cameo role in it can mean to a jockey’s career.
“Their horses are world class,” he explains, “and have to be respected whenever they travel. Riding any of these in one of their rare excursions outside of Japan means you’re on something special.”
Zac Purton has added some strong, loyal supporters from the region to his bow- the Raffles Thoroughbred Racing Syndicate that owns and races Sacred Falls on which he has won the Doncaster Handicap and the George Main Stakes, the powerful Japanese connections behind Admire Rakti, plus the support of Hong Kong owners and trainers including a new association with an exciting galloper in the Tony Millard-trained Divine Calling.
Says Purton: “In my time here, I haven’t seen a horse win like that at their first start off the rating he was on. He’s an exciting prospect.” Understatement alert.
Zac Purton, Douglas Whyte and Joao Moreira don’t need to go anywhere with a begging bowl looking for rides just to participate in a Cup race.
From their home base in Hong Kong, they are in a position to pick and choose the offers that come their way- why bother showing up to ride no-hopers?- knowing full-well that their priority is riding in Hong Kong where the HKJC runs a very tight, efficient ship.
Brett Prebble let this opportunity slip last year to ride for a longer period of time in Australia. By the time he returned, he had lost the support base he once had here- and, ironically, there- despite winning the Melbourne Cup.
As in any business, people have short memories and one is only as their last hit- or winner.
Where to now for Zac Purton aka The Zac Attack?
At 31 and, recently, a father for the first time, he is in a position to build from a very strong base- a base that’s only a starting point and where he can control his own destiny.
To say that he hasn’t even begun to move the career chess pieces along is something quite extraordinary to absorb.
But, then again, it’s been an incredible journey for a rare riding talent- a successful global riding talent who has accomplished much in a very short period of time with the Yellow Brick Road ahead of this wizard from Oz.
Could there be the day when he rides a Japanese runner in the Arc- and finally wins this one major race that has eluded the country? Why not?
After all, for Zac Purton, it’s all about going where no one’s gone before.
It’s about seizing the day and seizing all the right opportunities.
THIS WAY FOR A HAPPY WEDNESDAY
While student leaders try to negotiate with Government Officials whereas the city’s Chief Executive continues to play a tedious game of hide and seeking while tap dancing away from any responsibility along with those other cowardly lions who started Occupy Central and allowed it to be hijacked and turned into a leaderless circus, those seeking a few hours away from this madness will be heading to Happy Valley Racecourse tonight for the relaunch of the HKJC’s happy happy Happy Wednesday nights.
From being only about what goes on at the track’s Beer Garden- a ‘feel good’ meeting place for those wishing to take in horse racing, up close and personal, while being in a unique and huge outdoor pub under the stars- a Happy Wednesday has evolved to be A Night At The Races- but with that “outdoor pub” becoming an indoor outdoor Club with many different doors, each one opening up to offer something different.
Yes, it’s about different strokes for different folks with the common and uncommon denominator being feeling as Happy as a Pharrell Williams song.
It’s about being Happy to kickback and take in the races from venues like Adrenaline, The Gallery, a private party at Millions or the international buffet of nationalities partying at the Beer Garden.
And unlike some racing meetings attended in other countries, it’s not about a reason to become totally legless and make total knobs of themselves.
Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, perhaps it’s how Hong Kong rolls, perhaps it’s some unwritten “rule” stated right from the beginning, but a Happy Valley Happy Wednesday night is about getting happy and getting lucky without becoming hapless daft punks.
Tonight, apart from all the venues, the racing, and the ‘live’ music, the menu includes the HKJC’s Oktoberfest promotion with its beers, sausages, frauleins, an oompah pah band from Munich, and winners- on and off the track.
WHY WE’RE FANS OF FAN- ANNA FAN
Performing with Welsh singer-songwriter Ben Semmens and singer-guitarist, Hong Kong’s answer to Slash, will be our favourite band out here- maRK- and our favourite drummer Anna Fan.
Sure, there’s something very sexy about a female drummer- and Anna is like a sexy Smurfette- but she’s also an excellent percussionist.
With her progressive jazz outfit maRK, they’ll be backing Ben and Jay at Adrenaline for three songs and then at the Beer Garden for two more, but they WILL have their own solo spots as the Happy Wednesday nights unfold.
Meanwhile, try and catch them at Visage One, a funky little jazz bar by night and hair salon by day in a side alley off Hollywood Road- they perform there on a semi-regular basis on Friday nights- and also wait for news about their new recording.
THE BEAUTY OF HORSE POWER
THE FAST TRACKER IS TIPPING A HAPPY WEDNESDAY NIGHT
Other than the fact that it was a rare Sunday afternoon city meeting- the first on the spanking new racecourse- it was business as usual at Happy Valley with a treble from The Magic Man, a double from the Durban Demon and another winner from the Zac Attack fresh from his Caulfield Cup success.
One shudders to think what might have happened if Moreira had joined Whyte and Purton at Caulfield, and their flight back was delayed.
On a day when many jockeys rode as if not wishing to soil the new carpet green surface, it all went almost according to script.
The hard-working Christian Reith rode the first winner of his new riding stint, and one can only hope he receives more rides capable of winning. The bloke deserves a fair go for his six month riding license.
As predicted here, Derek Leung broke a long line of outs by winning on You Read My Mind, and apprentice Alvin Ng repaid the faith Tony Cruz has in him by giving a very accomplished display to win the last race aboard the impressive Peniaphobia.
As for tonight, what’s surprising is that Zac Purton doesn’t have a full book of rides in the eight race card as quite a few worth were withdrawn. He has just four rides whereas Joao Moreira has his usual full book though there’s an open look to the Jockey Challenge where some of the Magic Man’s rides are certain to start under the odds- as usual.
My suggestion: Start off at Adrenaline, then head down to the Beer Garden, focus on the last four races, enjoy the Oktoberfest and watch out for any weiners.
Something to just watch while checking out the scenery at Adrenaline though I like the 2-4-6-9 boxed quinella with Sir Douglas on a win line.
A tough 1800m race to figure as one has to wonder which jockeys might suffer from brain freeze and throw the race away.
The first leg to the Six Up and which paid a whopping $660,000 on Sunday and won by someone who’s still partying like it was 1999. To stay in the running, take the entire field and then “do a Nat Chan” and tell everyone around you that you won everything. Nat Chan never loses.
A VERY tough first leg to the Triple Trio where I suggest closing your eyes, taking a pin and see where it lands. If there was a gun pointed to my head and forced to choose two bankers, these would be Genuine Champion (5) with Andy Suborics aboard and Zachary (9), which was very unlucky at its last start and can give young Karis Teetan a much-needed winner.
Zac Purton rides Jade Pippo (11) two pounds over and must be kept safe despite its habit for sluggish starts while the favourite, no doubt, will be Moreira’s ride Baltic Warrior (7) which caught the eye on Sunday when it was quietly ridden for fourth. Moreira takes over from Ollie Doleuze. Don’t expect the 44 to 1 odds it went off at on the weekend tonight! It might even flop.
One for an upset could be the lightweight hope Excitable Boy (12).
There are three horses with winning chances here that could even be boxed for a quinella and quinella place bets- Holmes Legend (1), Real Supreme (10) and Born To Win (11).
The booking of Monsieur Mosse for Fat Choy Hong Kong- though topweight, it’s running down a class- appears to have been made following requests from the owners, and as long as the Frenchman doesn’t go in search for some McFries, this should go very close. Or four wide. It’s either or with Le Grand French McSwordsman these days.
Caspar Fownes has two horses entered and though his Windicator Star once had good stats for the Valley track, that was a long time ago, and the booking of Jacky Ying Tong means the horse is probably going around to enjoy the scenery.
Last start winner The Prince seems to be the stable elect with the in-form Vincent Ho aboard, and despite being up in class, it’s drawn well and can’t be ignored here.
Others to consider: Naughty Baby, and Apollo Cavalier.
RACING EXPERT SARIKA CHOY’S SIX UP
This piece on Purton almost equals the stuff Murray Bell used to write for the Racing Post. Murray’s breathless, wide eyed puff pieces used to take me back to 6th Form and the school football reports. Zac’s in the big league now but he doesn’t handle it very well and he’s well on the way to handing the hoops’ premiership back to Douglas or Jo. He should take a leaf out of the Moreira – Purton playbook. Shut up and do your job. The suggestion that he wasn’t supported by the non-Asian trainers is what I mean. That chip on his shoulder – get rid of it. You won’t see Jo or Douglas talking like that. No wonder the modest but very astute judge of hoops and horses, John Size, steers clear of him. Zac is going nowhere fast, like so many Aussie riders who come to Hong Kong. Sure, he’ll finish somewhere near the top of the premiership this year but so what. Last year was it for Zac. He might like to get on the blower to Shane Dye and find out what happens when your rides find the heaviest handicap a horse has to carry is the ego of its rider.