Zac Purton is going to have to get everything right if he is to overhaul Joao Moreira and land a fifth jockeys’ premiership, and the star Australian hopes the impending rise in riding weights can give him an edge.
Hong Kong’s jockeys will have a choice to make when the weight scale rises two pounds – making the minimum weight 115 pounds and the maximum 135 – beginning at the Sha Tin meeting on June 25.
Some will use the change as it is intended and opt to ease the pressure on their bodies by raising the minimum weight they ride at, while others will see the shift as a way to seize additional opportunities.
For Purton, who trails Moreira by five winners with 11 meetings remaining in the season, the decision on how to approach the final three weeks of the campaign is an easy one.
“It gives everyone the option to ride two pounds heavier or ride the same weight and give yourself more opportunities. I think giving myself more opportunities is the way to go,” Purton told the Post.
Moreira pondered the idea of raising his minimum riding weight after suffering dehydration as a result of pushing himself to ride at 116 pounds on a particularly hot day recently.
Despite that, it seems likely he’ll adopt the same approach as Purton in the latter stages of this season and take all the opportunities he can, however his rival is confident he can still find an edge.
“It’s certainly going to give me more opportunities,” Purton said. “For instance, Rising From Ashes was on a rating of 63 [last Wednesday night] and Joao won on it.
“That’s a horse I could have easily been on but because of the weight I couldn’t ride it, so it’s a two-win swing.
“If I’m riding that horse I’m only three behind him instead of five. If I only get two of those horses rated 63 or 64 before the end of the season, it could be a four-win swing and the numbers quickly add up.
“It gives me a lot more opportunities and hopefully I can retain some of these horses that are going up through the grades.”
Whether it will be enough for Purton to claim his fifth title and pull one premiership win clear of Moreira remains to be seen.
While Purton is no stranger to overcoming a deficit late in a season, famously storming home from 15 winners adrift in mid-April to win the 2017-18 premiership, this time around he will have to come from behind while drawing on a body that is in desperate need of a rest.
The injuries Purton suffered in the horror fall in December’s Hong Kong Sprint continue to hamper the 39-year-old’s performance and he admits managing his ailments is more of a focus than the title race.
“I’m more worried about trying to get my body right at the moment, it’s a struggle and that’s my main focus,” said Purton, who in April threatened to sit out the remainder of the season if he didn’t get the medical care he needed.
“I badly need the off season. I went through the recovery process after the fall and I thought things were coming good but I’ve gone downhill again. But it is what it is, I’ll just try to get through to the end of the season.”
With plenty of talk around just how long Purton – and Moreira, for that matter – will stay in Hong Kong, the lure of a fifth, and perhaps final, premiership will no doubt keep him going, and just as well.
The Zac and Joao show is an integral antidote to the monotony that comes hand in hand with the final weeks of a Hong Kong racing season. Let’s hope it goes to the wire.