Zac Purton stormed to his fifth, and perhaps most satisfying, jockeys’ premiership at Sha Tin on Saturday, landing a quartet to finally put an absorbing title race to bed at the last meeting of the season.
Level on winners with long-time rival Joao Moreira heading into the 2021-22 finale, Purton struck blow after blow to wrest back the crown from the Magic Man, who won his fourth title last season.
“Every one is special in their own way and I want to pay respect to Joao as well,” Purton said.
“It’s been a really difficult season and a really difficult last three years for all of us here in Hong Kong through the Covid lockdowns, having to homeschool the kids. We’ve both had our health issues, so it’s been really, really tough.
“We both deserve to win it. It’s really tough that only one person can. It’s energy-sapping and we’re both probably at the end of our tethers so it’s nice we can close it today, both go on holiday and come back again next season.”
While Purton’s focus may partly have been on the thought of sitting on a beach in the Maldives, it is only a matter of time before the magnitude of his achievement sinks in.
Purton now holds a 5-4 advantage over Moreira when it comes to premierships after nine years of dominance from the pair but, if the ongoing whispers are on the money, Hong Kong racing fans may have seen their last blockbuster edition of the Zac and Joao show.
It’s been suggested by many that one – if not both – of Purton and Moreira could be gone by the end of next season and if this turns out to be the case, the Australian will forever savour the crown that handed him an enduring lead over his famous rival.
DOUBLE for @zpurton! 🔥🔥— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) July 16, 2022
The Australian extends his leads at the top of the jockeys' championship as Never Too Soon cruises over the line for trainer David Hall. #SeasonFinale | #HKracing pic.twitter.com/hi8XXOT1kd
The layers of significance embedded in Purton’s achievement do not stop there.
Sidelined by the raft of injuries he suffered in the horror fall in December’s Hong Kong Sprint, Purton missed eight meetings and – after taking a little while to hit his straps on his return – was staring at an 18-win deficit when Moreira started a six-meeting suspension in February.
After a ding-dong battle over the final few months of the campaign, Purton reigned supreme and while his first title back in 2013-14 saw him end Douglas Whyte’s 13-year period of dominance, this win may well sit on a similar plane to that breakthrough success when the 39-year-old one day reflects on his exploits.
Level with Moreira on 132 victories heading into the 88th and final fixture, the Australian took the lead aboard Turquoise Alpha in the Class Four Solar Hei Hei Handicap (1,800m) and rammed home his advantage with victory atop Never Too Soon in the Class Three All You Wish Handicap (1,400m).
Absolute rocket! 🔥🔥 Is there any wonder Lucky Sweynesse was crowned Champion Griffin?— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) July 16, 2022
Easy win for the three-year-old and @zpurton, who collects his fourth of the afternoon. #SeasonFinale #HKracing pic.twitter.com/AEyDLsowEa
Purton then put the result beyond doubt in the day’s feature, saluting on the Whyte-trained Turin Redsun in the Class One Hong Kong Racehorse Owners Association Trophy (1,600m).
“I said a couple of weeks ago how ironic it would be if I was to win on this horse for Douglas as I obviously knew I was booked to ride him,” Purton said.
“To seal the championship after everything Douglas and I have been through, it’s much nicer to be his friend than his foe.”
Lucky Sweynesse was Purton’s final winner, with Manfred Man Ka-leung’s three-year-old – who was named Champion Griffin on Friday night – saluting in fine style to ring up a fifth win from seven starts.
Moreira went winless on the day, enduring three third placings and a runner-up finish aboard Money Catcher in the race where Purton sealed the deal.