It is rare to see Zac Purton salute after a victory – not even a Group One – so when he stands up in the irons and flourishes the whip, you know he really enjoyed it.
He did just that after You Have My Word’s narrow victory at Sha Tin on Saturday, and there was some extra meaning to it. In this case, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to work out why.
Purton is in a spat with Grant van Niekerk both on and off the track, which was brought into the public sphere after the Australian was critical of the South African for one of his rides on Twitter last month.
Stewards handed Purton a HK$5,000 fine on Wednesday night for “inappropriate behaviour” over the incident, which had a crack at Van Niekerk’s handling of You Have My Word.
It's @zpurton again in R6 at Sha Tin. You Have My Word is produced perfectly to make it a treble for the champion, who rides Shamport in the next before linking up with the exciting Little Giant in the Panasonic Cup. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/9GUuzM2YEs— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) November 10, 2018
On Saturday, the reigning champ took the ride on Benno Yung Tin-pang’s gelding and was determined to deliver a victory for connections and remind the newcomer who is the top dog in Hong Kong.
“Sometimes life in racing can be a little bit boring and a little bit of drama adds theatre to things,” Purton said.
“It’s been a bit of a talking point in Hong Kong, obviously I’m not allowed to be critical of Grant but I’m sure he’ll go home and watch the replay and he would’ve learned something out of what happened last time and today.”
Purton is at his best when challenged, as he showed last season in his championship fight with Joao Moreira, and it was reiterated on Saturday when Karis Teetan took out the opening race to join him at the top of the table on 24 wins.
But that tie only lasted until the third race when Purton punched home the first of a treble.
“I know how things are going,” Purton responded when asked if he was aware Teetan had levelled up with him.
“Karis has got a lot of support at the moment, he’s going well, he’s enjoying his racing which is good, but there’s a long way to go so I’ll keep chipping away.”
Of course, by the end of the day that lead was back to three wins thanks to You Have My Word and Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s duo of Right Choice and Witness Hunter.
Right Choice was on debut and looks to have plenty of upside, never comfortable with the kickback on the all-weather track.
A second winner of the day for @zpurton and Frankie Lor as lightly-raced Witness Hunter holds City Legend in R5 at Sha Tin. Four of the 5 winners so far have carried number 4. And the other was 14! #HKracing pic.twitter.com/nY60i2Ypnf— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) November 10, 2018
“He’s going to be a miler and he just couldn’t get into his rhythm mid-race, it’s the first time he’s been on the dirt and in and behind horses where the dirt is hitting him and he didn’t respond well to it,” Purton said.
“He kept trying to jump and climb in his action and he never felt like he was going to be a contender in the race until he got into the straight and got to the outside and then he picked up and hit the line.
“He showed that he’s a progressive type and I’m sure as he continues to go along and gets up over more ground he’s going to be more comfortable but it’s a nice starting point for him.”