This season was meant to be all about Joao Moreira, again, but by the end of it we had a new champion in Zac Purton and the Magic Man’s shock departure was just one of many that shook Hong Kong racing to its core and reshaped the look of the riding roster for next season.
Moreira had ridden 483 winners to Purton’s 292 combined during his three-season championship reign so there were no betting markets to speak of, let alone odds offered, about an unlikely upset in this season’s jockeys’ championship.
It was clear midway through the term that Moreira wasn’t going to break his own records but he still led by what seemed an unassailable 15 wins in mid-April and there was still no talk of the title changing hands.
With Moreira siding with champion trainer John Size, picking up his choice of lightweight rides and choosing Japanese visitors in big races, Purton was content to work on his relationships with the mega owners.
The strategy paid off with two Group One wins aboard two Time Warp for the Siu family and another two aboard Beauty Generation for the Kwoks.
Along the way Purton picked up win number 800, putting him in rare company with only Douglas Whyte, Tony Cruz ahead of him on the all-time list by the end of the season.
Then Purton set his sights on Moreira and outrode his rival to the tune of 56 winners to 37 over the final 24 meetings of the season.
The final meeting turned into an anticlimax as Purton withstood Moreira’s late rally and if there was a defining moment to the rivalry it was a week earlier when both riders fought out a thrilling four-all draw.
Purton’s 136 winners was a personal best, but one he will be favoured to pass next season with a lack of proven competition at the top.
Moreira’s announcement that he would depart for Japan, dropped like a bomb on the eve of the licensing committee’s meeting in June, added poignancy to the jockeys’ championship battle.
Not that the season needed any more drama after Nash Rawiller was served with a 15-month ban in late April for tipping and receiving gifts or cash, a case now in the hands of the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
The veteran Australian had worked his way into the fans hearts with his ungainly style – dubbed “Fried Rice” by the locals – and clawed his way to third on the championship and his 40 winners.
Tommy Berry was finally lured to Sha Tin full time as John Moore’s stable rider but whatever could go wrong, did, and the Australian is returning home after finishing the term on the club list.
Still, somehow the gutsy Aussie scratched his way 20 winners and was rewarded with a late-season call-up on Pakistan Star and won a Group One.
Popular veterans Brett Prebble and Olivier Doleuze also bade farewell, taking with them a combined 1,377 Hong Kong wins and a wealth of colour and big race experience.
Those departures leave more than 230 winners on the table, with the likes of young lightweight Karis Teetan – coming off a career-best 52-win campaign – eager to snap them up.