Zac Purton ended last season as the dominant force in the Hong Kong jockeys’ rank, the senior rider in terms of both years on the roster (12) and wins accrued (1,023). But with the new campaign set to kick off on Sunday (1 September), the champion jockey is not alone in his expectation that this year’s premiership will dish up a tough and riveting battle for supremacy.
“It’s always a goal for any reigning champion to defend their title, so that’s high on the list of priorities, but the competition is a bit different this time around and whether or not I can achieve that will be reflective of the support that I get,” he said.
With a new trainer on the block, an old foe unfettered, a couple of highly-touted new riders in town and any number of unforeseen twists and turns in the months ahead, the three-time Hong Kong champ is unsure about how the season’s challenges might take shape: “It’s hard to say,” he said.
But, at the same time, there are no prizes for guessing who Purton nominates as his likely chief rival: “Joao (Moreira) is the one that stands out, he’s clearly going to be my main competitor.”
Moreira hit the jockeys’ room like a T10 category typhoon in October 2013, storming in across the South China Sea from Singapore to subsequently set benchmarks never before seen: an all-time season high of 145 wins to depose Purton as champion in 2015, followed by 168 and 170 wins to bag three consecutive titles.
The Brazilian’s whirlwind arrival stands in contrast to Purton’s long, grinding rise to the top in Hong Kong. The Australian landed for the start of the 2007/08 season, at the end of which he had 29 wins. He deposed the great Douglas Whyte to bag his first premiership in 2013, having spent six seasons doing the hard yards, riding primarily for lower-tiered local trainers and without consistent backing from the powerhouse yards.