Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any stranger, Zac Purton and Tony Millard set aside their differences to share the spotlight in a Longines International Jockeys’ Championship like no other.
Can someone check to see if hell has frozen over?
To describe their relationship as frosty would be like saying the ocean is wet, but the luck of the IJC draw brought the two men, who famously combined to win two Group Ones with Ambitious Dragon in 2012-13, together for the first time since June 2017.
It’s amazing how a common goal – a winner and the prospect of bulk cash – can bring two bulls together.
The result was both did their jobs exceptionally well to ensure Gift Of Lifeline crossed the line first in the third leg of the series as they combined for their first winner since March 2015.
It gave Purton the impetus to collect his second IJC title while Millard, who also won the second leg of the event with Gallant Crown, took out the inaugural HK$200,000 bonus as the leading trainer.
The two were very amicable pre-race, Millard even yelled “go Zac” in the closing stages and both smiled in the winner’s circle together, much to the amusement of the photographers lined up around the mounting yard and the trainers looking on.
The band was officially back together – at least for one night.
“Dad was happy, he’s invited me around for Christmas – turkey I think,” Purton quipped immediately after the race.
But the 37-year-old dropped the showmanship after the meeting, taking a more optimistic view of the situation.
“Hopefully we’ve broken the ice there and we can put our long run of outs behind us and just get on with business,” Purton said.
Gift Of Lifeline’s win was the highlight of a competitive IJC, which went right down to the wire.
Purton secured the title with 20 points after securing minor placings on Fearless Fire in the second leg and Flying Bonus in the fourth race.
It gave the Australian his second IJC title – he won his first in 2017 – while he also took home a HK$500,000 cheque.
“Certainly it feels nice to have won it again – it’s another moment that I’ll cherish,” Purton said. “Especially when it’s in a competition as prestigious as this and there is so much on the line.”
Joao Moreira, who won the opening leg of the series on Gouten Of Garo, had to settle for second on 16 points, while Alexis Badel and British visitor Hollie Doyle (12 points) were tied for third after winning aboard Gallant Crown and Harmony N Blessed, respectively.
The occasion itself was surreal, like most things during this pandemic.
Typically, the grandstands are heaving as punters cram into the beer garden, music is pumping and the night sky is filled with fireworks.
Instead, there were just 195 owners on track with officials on edge as they tried to ensure the protocols were followed by all involved – be they quarantine or social distancing requirements.