Zac Purton 'tubby' but recharged after suspension
Championship leader returns to the track today ready to renew battle against challenger Moreira
Jockeys' championship leader Zac Purton says he returned from a holiday during his two-meeting suspension a touch "tubby", but also recharged and ready to wrest momentum back from rampant challenger Joao Moreira.
Saturday's meeting at Sha Tin marks the halfway point of the season and Purton, who hadn't been suspended for careless riding since December 2012, saw the brighter side of serving a two-meeting stretch at such a pivotal time after a hectic early-season schedule.
"I feel good. I came back from my holiday a little bit tubby, as I usually do, but I gave myself a solid week to prepare for the meeting and got my weight down. I feel good, fresh and ready to go and do battle again," he said.
"You never want to get suspended, but it is always good to have a freshen-up and it came at a good time. There were a lot of meetings over Christmas and New Year and they were really crammed together and it wore me out. I was just exhausted. The break has hopefully given me that spark.
"There's a lot of pressure on our bodies and getting a little breather makes a world of difference sometimes."
When Moreira joined the ranks after 10 meetings of the season, Purton had already notched 13 wins - the same as the current margin between the pair. But even though the Australian and Brazilian have the same number of wins since then, of late the momentum has been squarely with Moreira.
Purton had ridden an amazing 44 winners in the 25 meetings up to and including International Day, and had a commanding 30-win lead over Moreira, who had just been hobbled by back-to-back three-meeting suspensions. But since then, second-placed Moreira has ridden more than two winners to his main rival's one and has not only closed the gap but seems to be picking up more support, as Purton's backing from some trainers wanes.
"The jockeys' championship is just going to come down to opportunities - whoever gets the best chances - and at the moment he is getting all of them," Purton said.
"It is difficult, but things happen in ebbs and flows here and hopefully my wave starts to come soon. I can't ride as light as Joao, so I am at a distinct disadvantage in that way, but I'm just going to go out there and do my thing, see what happens and do the best with what I have got."
Key to either rider's chances will be linking with talented newcomers with the potential to deliver multiple wins as they climb up through the grades and Purton may have found two today in the form of Paul O'Sullivan's Celestial Smile (race six) and Benno Yung Tin-pang's Numero Uno (race four).
"They are both lightly raced horses that look like they have some scope . If you can get on a couple of new horses that can bang a series of wins together it is a massive boost to your chances."