Zac Purton landed the most telling blow yet in the titanic struggle for the jockeys’ premiership at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, pulling seven clear of Joao Moreira with a dominant four-timer.
After wearing down Moreira and $1.50 favourite Sky Darci to win aboard Highland Fortune in race six, Purton snared the next two races with pick-up rides as a result of Vincent Ho Chak-yiu being stood down three races in after experiencing chest pain.
After Star Shine saluted in the Class Two Mount Cameron Handicap (1,650m), Purton steered Alpha Hedge to victory in the Class Three Mount Nicholson Handicap (1,650m).
Masterclass.— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) June 24, 2020
Victoriam@zpurton dominates the back-end of the card at the Valley, winning the last four races, all for trainer Francis Lui who moves to within two wins of Ricky Yiu at the top. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/pYCvzFba5x
He then put the cherry on top with Victoriam in the Class Two Magazine Gap Handicap (1,200m) to ring up a running quartet – all for Francis Lui Kin-wai.
“Obviously I’m very lucky, I picked up a couple of nice rides. I just had some fit horses that were in form for a good stable that has been going well this season,” Purton said.
“I didn’t have time to do the form for the races but things worked out well from the barriers, I got into great spots and the horses did well,” he added of his pair of pick-up mounts.
"Another Purton pick-up to add to the Francis fill-up!"— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) June 24, 2020
Australian ace @zpurton bags a running treble, his last two, pick-up rides for trainer Francis Lui who also gets three wins in a row. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/t6RUQvToa9
And while Purton all but ended his championship fight, he breathed life into Lui’s push for the trainers’ title, with the 61-year-old pulling within two of leader Ricky Yiu Poon-fai.
“Zac did a good job, it’s good for him and also good for me. It’s lucky that he didn’t already have a ride in those races,” Lui said.
Sky Darci and Highland Fortune produced a ding-dong battle of their own in the Class Three Mount Gough Handicap (1,200m), pulling six lengths clear of the rest of the field as they slugged it out in the straight.
Purton prevailing in that contest seemed like a seminal moment and that he followed it up with two winners on horses he wasn’t supposed to be riding left many thinking that it’s simply meant to be for the star Australian in 2019-20, especially with Moreira missing the July 8 meeting through suspension.
“I do not [think it’s over]. It’s never over until it’s over and Joao’s such a great rider and you can never write him off,” Purton said when asked if he thinks he has the championship in the bag.
“Obviously he’s getting a lot more support than I am at the moment so it’s only a matter of time before he comes out and has a big day. You always have to be wary of the wounded.”
Star Shine returned to the winner’s circle for the first time in almost two years, with Purton weaving his way through the field in the straight to grab leader Magnificent in the final 50m.
“He’s returned to form, he struggled for a while, had a few problems and sometimes his draw was no good,” Lui said of Star Shine.
While Caspar Fownes had to watch on as his young gun Sky Darci went under, he still managed a double with Daily Beauty taking out the Class Four Wong Nai Chung Gap Handicap (1,650m) under Moreira and Jazz Steed victorious in the Class Four Shouson Hill Handicap (1,000m) under Chad Schofield.
“In his last run he ran a bottler and it’s nice to see them come out and do it again because it’s always tough in Hong Kong,” Fownes said of Jazz Steed, who was bought for HK$5.5 million at the Hong Kong International Sale in March last year.
“They’re competitive races, every time they go around here, it’s similar type of horses but there’s not much between them.
“I’m happy for Chad to get a winner for us and I’m very happy for the owners because it’s been a while and we spent a bit of money on him as an [International Sale Graduate].
“Hopefully he’ll start to pick up and pay his price tag off a little bit. I think as he comes into next season he’s going to be all right, he’s just learning his trade.
“He’s a big physical type horse and there looks like there’s a chance for him to go on with it and do something.”
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Ho, who took out the second section of the Class Four Violet Hill Handicap (1,200m) aboard Bullish Brother before being stood down, while Blake Shinn landed his first winner in over a month aboard Chikorita in the first section.