Australian jockey Zac Purton lauded Hong Kong as “a place where I’m encouraged to ride winners” as he launched an attack on controversial whip rules in his home country in the wake of a double at Sha Tin yesterday.
Rouge Et Blanc and Washington Heights won by a nose and a neck respectively, each receiving every ounce of Purton’s strength under vigorous rides, but the jockey believes both of his mounts would have struggled to win if they were racing under the contentious rules now in effect in Australia.
“In Australia, I’m doubtful whether either of them would have won under the new rules, I really had to get stuck into both of them and they only just won,” he said. “At least I’m lucky enough to be riding in a place where I’m encouraged to ride winners – it doesn’t seem to be that way back at home currently.”
The whip rules, which came into effect in December, prevent a jockey from striking their horse with the whip on more than five occasions or in consecutive strides before the 100 metres. A number of jockeys, including Purton, Tommy Berry and Hugh Bowman, fell foul of the rules during Sydney’s The Championships, with substantial fines handed out by Australian stewards, while Chad Schofield will miss a Happy Valley meeting next month because of a breach.
In Hong Kong, the only stipulation is that a horse out of contention is not unduly tested, with Rule 99 (2) making reference to taking “all reasonable and permissible measures … to ensure a horse is given a full opportunity to win or to obtain the best possible placing.” However, stewards will fine jockeys for what they deem to be unreasonable use of the whip.
Washington Heights has Purton and trainer Paul O’Sullivan dreaming big after his narrow but gritty success in the Class Two closer yesterday, pulling out just enough to win by a neck from Key Witness (Douglas Whyte) over 1,200m.
“He raced up like he was going to win comfortably but once he got past the leader he started idling in front, he didn’t know what to do,” Purton said. “Then Douglas loomed up on Key Witness and my bloke, he accelerated away again and on the line he was going as good as anything. He’s still learning, but when he’s the complete package he will be a really nice horse.”
O’Sullivan believes Washington Heights is a Group horse in the making and is potentially eyeing off some late season targets like the Sha Tin Vase and Premier Cup, following a similar path he took with eventual Hong Kong Sprint winner Aerovelocity two seasons ago.
“I’d need to talk to Zac but a race like the Sha Tin Vase next month could be suitable,” he said. “But we’ve also got Line Seeker heading that way so we’ll play it by ear and see what happens. Line Seeker’s a little bit smarter at the moment, he is mentally there and he seems to be nearing his peak, while Washington Heights is still a bit raw so we may put him away or look for another Class Two sprint.
“The thing is, Washington Heights is going to be a really nice horse at five, six, seven – it’s not worth pushing him too hard now.”
“His form was nice in Australia, but he was so young, he was tested out to a mile and the company was perhaps too tough for him at that stage. So he came to us with a bit of a non-winner tag but he’s already won two from three for us and you would think there are more wins ahead.”
There are no lofty ambitions with Rouge Et Blanc, though, after Danny Shum Chap-shing’s stayer made it two on the trot in Class Four after a ferocious battle with favourite Lotus Strikes Back over the final 100m.
“He’s a big lump of a thing, it’s hard to get him going,” Shum said. “I never thought this horse would win two in a row, but it was all Zac– in the end, his strength made the difference, he was really able to get stuck into Rouge Et Blanc and the horse needs that.”