Great jockey championships happen in slow motion but if this season’s title race could be said to have had a moment when the vague mirage of a contest between Joao Moreira and Zac Purton took on real form, it was the final race at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
A white-hot Purton had already slammed home four winners to Moreira’s one, closing his deficit to eight wins.
But when it looked to all the world like the Magic Man had edged his lead out again when Storm Signal hit the line with Cheerfuljet in the last, Purton’s recent call that tight photos were costing him came echoing back.
But when the photo came down Purton’s way this time, it was five for the card and, most importantly, another one clawed back from Moreira’s keeping.
A big night for @zpurton gets even bigger as he makes it five wins aboard Cheerfuljet in the closer. #HKRacing returns at Sha Tin for #HKChampionsDay on Sunday #HappyWednesdayHK pic.twitter.com/bO3OvsS6wd— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) April 25, 2018
“I’ve been chipping away at Joao’s lead but I think I said the other day that I’ve needed a night like this when I ride five, because I know Joao’s going to do the same any time soon,” Purton said. “I’m getting great support and even got some photos tonight. I’ve got to keep doing it, he’s still seven clear, but it looks a real contest and that’s good for racing.”
Purton helped regular Valley king Caspar Fownes to a winning double with The Judge and Cheerfuljet in the last two events and Fownes was talking jockeys’ championship too.
“Zac is riding so well, he’s going to make it very interesting. It’s going to come down to which jockey is choosing the better rides. Joao has more choices because he rides lighter but he still has to nail the decisions,” Fownes said.
On The Judge, he thinks the five-year-old may be turning his form around now, well into his second campaign.
“He has been disappointing because the impression he gives you training him is that he should be an 80-rater and he’s drifted down to 60 and Class Four before he could win,” he said. “Still, I’ve seen these horses many times before. They have some time to acclimatise, they get to a rating where they break through and they get some confidence when they go back up in class and start to fulfil the potential they had.”
Along with the Fownes pair, Purton landed the Tony Cruz-trained Super Chic for a breakthrough win in the 2,200m Class Three while Merrygowin and Fortune Bo Bo clung on for narrow victories to make the set.
“We’ve been waiting for Merrygowin to get to a distance where he had the tactical pace to put himself in the right position and he got it tonight and gate one and it’s hard to fault Zac’s ride – he didn’t go around a horse,” said trainer Paul O’Sullivan.
Cruz said Super Chic was a typical story for a European stayer in Hong Kong after the former Italian finally landed a race at his 15th start.
“He’s a European stayer – they don’t like the hard tracks here and there aren’t enough staying races,” he said. “He does seem to find Happy Valley a lot better for him than Sha Tin so we need to keep finding these 2,200m races here, there just aren’t that many. But Zac gave a great ride, he let him relax early, gave him a chance and he really finished off well.”
An eye-catching @zpurton ride gets 2016 Italian Derby winner Super Chic home for his first Hong Kong victory in R3 at Happy Valley #HKChampionsDay #HappyWednesdayHK #HKRacing pic.twitter.com/Kcay409b0J— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) April 25, 2018
The impact on disqualified rider Nash Rawiller was instant, with Keith Yeung Ming-lun taking over on his ride Top Score to win the second event.