By Hans Ebert
In cricket, scoring a century- a hundred runs- is also known as making a ton.The word is weighty because scoring a ton requires concentration, discipline, a thick skin to take the now obligatory sledging, especially when stuck in the nervous nineties, and, of course, talent. A ton of talent.
Transfer a cricket pitch to a racecourse, and a batsman for a jockey, and there’s a helluva more pressure needed to reach a ton in one racing season in Hong Kong. There was a time when the Jockeys Premiership here were won by Englishman Philip Robinson, below, with less than sixty winners on the board.
With only two days of racing a week, not many have reached or surpassed scoring a hundred winners in the one season. We’ve been spoilt in recent years where, like Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar in cricket, Joao Moreira has made it look almost too easy- a master blaster of a different kind who’s been running and controlling his own race.
The chasing pack comprises only one- Zac Purton. And so when the brilliant Australian rider rode his hundredth winner of the season last Wednesday aboard Premium Champion, it took a while for the importance of that moment to sink in. That this was a Herculean effort.
Why? As a jockey who cannot ride light, Zac Purton has always had to do it the hard way- everything from keeping his weight down to gaining stable support. Let’s never forget that it was only fairly recently when opportunities to ride for the big stables of Tony Cruz, John Moore and John Size came knocking on his door.
The year he won his first Hong Kong Jockey Premiership, his main support system consisted of trainers Dennis Yip and Caspar Fownes. Looking back, that was an incredible accomplishment that’s never really received its rightful dues.
Over the last few years, one has heard the same thing: That Zac Purton has come of age. Zac Purton “came of age” during that championship winning season. What we’re seeing today is a jockey at the top of his game and riding just as well, if not better in the last month than a somewhat subdued and seemingly preoccupied Joao Moreira. It’s been a roller coaster and no doubt mentally taxing few weeks for the brilliant Brazilian horseman. Not so for Zac Purton.
Next season could be his real breakthrough year, however, and when he’s no longer riding under the long shadow of Moreira.
A friend and someone with only a passing interest in horse racing, who left Hong Kong a couple of years ago, recently asked how certain riders he had met were doing. “Joao’s a lovely guy,” he said, “but Zac has that rock and roll swagger that I always liked. He comes across as being cocky, but I think he’s just messing with people’s heads.” He probably is. It’s called psychological warfare.
With Tommy Berry, below on Designs On Rome, being retained as stable jockey for John Moore and having first call on the stable’s runners, there will be a much more level playing next season, one which might offer The Zac Attack with the most opportunities.
Yes, apprentices Dylan Mo, Matthew Poon, both pictured below, Jack Wong and, perhaps, Kei Chiong, will all be in demand until their weight allowances are reduced and we get to a point where there’ll come a time to separate the men from the boys. And maybe one girl.
By the way, could racing writers try- and it’s tough- to refrain from referring to the successes enjoyed by trainer Peter Ho and apprentice Dylan Mo as a HoMo partnership? Let’s move on…
Joao Moreira, a naturally lightweight rider, will always be in demand by every stable though just how much riding he will do for John Moore will be interesting to see. It could hurt the brilliant Brazilian’s quest for more and more winners. This might explain the groundwork he’s doing right now to spread his net and show very good local trainers like Chris So and Danny Shum who have some exciting new horsepower that he’s ready, willing and able to ride for them. And let’s not forget the impact that new addition to the Hong Kong training facilities, the very affable and well-connected Michael Freedman is sure to bring to the party.
Moreira aside, one can expect Nash Rawiller to return to racing after a long time on the sidelines through a fall with his support system intact and a rider hungry to get back amongst the winners. Add to this list Umberto Rispoli, Sam Clipperton, Neil Callan, Derek Leung, Karis Teetan, and a re-energised, and too often under-utilised world class rider in Brett Prebble.
The Melbourne Cup winning jockey who’s flown under the radar for almost two seasons, has made it known that he plans to ride as light as 117 pounds next season. Winning the Reunification Cup with a brilliant ride on Hang’s Decision was a very timely reminder of what makes Brett Prebble the very good rider that he is.
While this season winds down a little tamely, it’s very obvious that the next one promises to be one of change, on and off the track. The writing on the wall is so clear that it’s blinding.
The politics of riders winning over owners and winning rides have already begun in earnest. It’s there for everyone to see in the lounges of five star hotels and the most exclusive restaurants.
We’ll probably see a couple of senior local and expatriate riders have their last season in Hong Kong, whereas that gap of winners between Joao Moreira and Zac Purton is certain to narrow.
Him reaching his ton this season was Zac Purton signalling that he’s got his bases covered, as always, he’s not lacking confidence, and he’s ready to take on all comers. And anywhere in the world.