Australian jockey Zac Purton has won 400 races in Hong Kong and collected Group Ones in England and Singapore. His countryman, Tye Angland, sits fourth behind three superstars on the jockeys’ championship, including Purton, and has also earned a reputation as one of the best riders in the world. Yet Frenchman Gerald Mosse may be more famous than both of them in their own country.
Of course, this is partly due to Mosse’s win on Americain in Australia’s biggest race, perhaps its biggest event of any sort, the Melbourne Cup – a race that transcends the sport and reaches into seemingly every household and workplace in the country.
Still, there remains a disconnect between what Australian jockeys achieve overseas and the level of recognition they receive in their homeland, and this is especially true for riders like Purton and Angland, who left young to further their careers and became stars on foreign shores.
It seems to be a case of “out of sight, out of mind” and when Purton made a triumphant homecoming last Saturday to win the Doncaster Mile on Sacred Falls, the local media described him as “Australia’s forgotten jockey”. Purton himself said as much in a post-race interview.
“It’s puzzling and I’m not sure why I don’t get offered many rides here,” he said. “For some reason, people at home forget about me. I seem to be getting the job done all around the world and get left out at home, so to get this opportunity is very satisfying.”
After another successful day at Sha Tin on Sunday, Angland confirmed his fourth Hong Kong season – already his best with 47 winners – would be his last for now and he would return to ride in Sydney in September.
Angland’s work rate will rise considerably in Australia, going from two race days per week to at least four. By way of comparison, Tommy Berry – who is rumoured to be moving to Hong Kong to fill Angland’s full-time spot on the roster next term – rode in 825 races in 2012-13, to Angland’s 438.
Riding less hasn’t halted Angland’s progress. As John Size said earlier this season: “It’s not about how many races he has ridden in, it’s quality over quantity here.” Angland added: “I’ve improved out of sight, this is the best racing in the world.”
For the people who watch him ride week-in and week-out, it is hard to believe Angland is just 24, such is his consistency and calm demeanour. He will return home a more mature, well-rounded rider with many more strings to his bow.
He has international experience, been exposed to different styles and honed his technique – in particular, there is a focus on getting horses to jump fast and into position early in races at Happy Valley and he is a master.
There is monumental pressure placed on riders here by owners, trainers, rival jockeys, media and, of course, the rabid punters. Purton said he was “a different person” to the barely controllable tearaway who left Sydney. To say he left a boy and returned a man isn’t understating the transformation from a toughness standpoint.
He might have been good when he left; now he goes toe-to-toe with Douglas Whyte and Joao Moreira twice per week.
The catalyst for Angland’s move is wife Erin expecting twins in October, but there’s also unfinished business on the track back in Australia.
Angland wants to win the races he grew up watching – the big-money features at carnival time, like the Doncaster, now worth A$3 million, the A$3.5 million Golden Slipper and of course the A$6 million Melbourne Cup – in a jurisdiction flush with cash and throwing much of it at prize money.
The two days of “The Championships”, which started at Randwick last Saturday and climaxes this weekend, boast races worth more than A$18 million in total.
“There’s a lot of money back home and I’m sick of sitting here and watching these big Group One races on television and not being able to get rides,” Angland said.
The move isn’t forever either.
“Hong Kong isn’t going anywhere, and I would love to come over and ride in the big races,” he said. “Whether it is five years, or 10 years, I’m sure I will be back riding here full time at some stage.”