Makeshift measures to battle cold weather at Sha Tin turn to gold for Zac Purton
Australian rider was close to walking away with temperatures plummeting in the New Territories, but his decision to brave the conditions proved profitable as he scored a treble
Zac Purton came prepared for the polar vortex with a neck-warmer he turned into a makeshift mask, a skivvy, earmuffs and even thermal socks, but admits he nearly “tapped out” early on what turned into a big day as temperatures plunged to record lows at Sha Tin.
The extreme discomfort of not being able to feel his feet didn’t stop the “masked man” riding a treble, including a win on comeback horse Line Seeker, but after an early race the Australian considered going home.
“I was just trying to stay warm and doing everything I could – my body was actually quite warm, because of the gear I had on, but I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes, they were freezing, and I was that cold I nearly pulled the pin after race two,” a relieved Purton said after pushing on through and braving cold, sometimes wet and windy conditions that saw temperatures drop to as low as three degrees in the New Territories, the lowest recorded in Hong Kong for 60 years. “The thermal socks didn’t help at all, I couldn’t feel my feet. It was so painful, I nearly tapped out, but I am glad I stayed at it and it ended up being a good day.”
Purton’s efforts earned him a Jockey Challenge victory at a rare meeting where Joao Moreira went home winless, the Australian becoming the first rider to beat the Brazilian in the Jockey Challenge since the start of December.
“Maybe we’ve found Joao’s weakness, the cold weather,” Purton joked.
A win on Dennis Yip Chor-hong-trained three-year-old Socket King was followed by a double for the Paul O’Sullivan stable, capping the meeting with a win on General Of Patch after Line Seeker returned from throat surgery to notch a hugely impressive victory.
After a win in last year’s Griffin Trophy, where he beat Sky Hero, Strathmore and Dashing Fellow, Line Seeker lost form and was diagnosed as a grade four out of five roarer, undergoing tie-back surgery in the off-season.
The risky procedure was clearly a success, with Line Seeker easily rounding up his opposition after bombing the start badly.
“The surgeon, Paul Robinson, deserves a lot of credit– the throat surgeries hadn’t been going that well but there have been a few lately that have been successful,” Purton said. “I knew immediately after I trialled him that it had been a success, he was getting a lot of air down there and was back to where he was as a young horse. He doesn’t seem to be making a lot of noise anymore.”
O’Sullivan was back home in New Zealand for the Karaka Million raceday and yearling sales, but his assistant Pierre Ng Pang-chi said one of the bonuses to come out of the win was finding out the horse could come from behind.
“Obviously we didn’t want him to miss the start, but it was good to see that he is more versatile than we thought,” Ng said.
Purton said Socket King still had a long way to go physically but was happy the youngster was able to pinch a win at his fourth start: “He is still an immature horse and he lacks a bit of strength, but it’s always a good sign when they come out and win early when you know they still have a lot of improvement to come.”