There’s no doubt the Manikato Stakes has been impacted by the rise of the all-conquering Everest, which as often as not has been falling the week before Moonee Valley’s marquee weekend of racing.
While many Australians are still salivating over Nick Kyrgios’ impressive Wimbledon run, a lesser known Australian has achieved an equally impressive feat in the racing Mecca that is Hong Kong.
Australian Zac Purton has ended Douglas Whyte’s 13-year strangle hold on the jockey’s premiership in Hong Kong an achievement that the New South Wales Blues would be proud of. In doing so, he became just the third Australian after Noel Barker and Gary Moore to win the coveted title, and the first Australian to win the title in 23 years.
Purton reflects on his achievements in an article for the South China Morning Post.
“It’s not just for me; it’s for all of the people back in Australia that have supported me. It’s incredible how many messages and emails and phone calls I get from people back home saying ‘well done’,” Purton said. “It hasn’t just been me, even though I’m the one getting all of the accolades out on the track and in the spotlight. It’s a team effort.”
What makes Purton’s achievements all the more outstanding is that he rarely rides for the two biggest stables in Hong Kong, run by Tony Cruz and John Size.
He probably won’t lose any sleep over it, but what has been significant for Purton has been the support from trainer Caspar Fownes, who is one of the “Big Four” and he played a big part in helping Purton win this year’s title.
Fownes said it was Purton’s professionalism outside of racing and not necessarily his riding that has improved.
“He has grown up – but more as a person than as a rider,” Fownes said. “He had to pick his game up from my perspective with his professionalism.
“His talent was always there but it is his attitude that has changed. He never had a bad attitude but he probably wasn’t professional enough. He is a totally different person from when he arrived.”
It hasn’t always been easy for Purton, one day when he sits back to reflect on his career he might tell everyone of when he walked into the stables in Coffs Harbour as a 14 year old asking for an apprenticeship. But at the time he weighed just 27 kilograms, and there was no chance that he was ever going to be riding horses, because he was just too weak.
Those who were around him during his time riding in Queensland will speak of a young hoop with dare and bravado. Gerald Ryan will tell the story of when a young Purton told him that he was going to be the best jockey in the world.
Purton’s rise to that goal began when he travelled to Brisbane to win the 2002-03 premiership as an apprentice under the guidance of Coffs Harbour trainer Trevor Hardy.
Ryan was one of the trainers who helped Purton that season, but as he told the Herald Sun earlier this week, he might have Glen Colless to thank.
“Glen Colless was the one who woke me up to it first. He told me there was this kid at Coffs Harbour who goes all right.” Ryan said.
“He definitely rubbed some people up the wrong way, but I knew him from a different perspective, being a mate of my son Blake’s.
“I remember very early on I asked him ‘what’s your ambition in life?’
“Without hesitation he said he wanted to go to Hong Kong and be the best in the world.
“It is hard to put into words what he’s achieved. He’s nearly been dominant in the toughest race centre in the world.
“He loves every winner. He has that killer instinct. He hates getting beaten and always has.”
Maybe it was the heart break from last season that spurred Purton into breaking Whyte’s dominance? twelve months ago he lay stricken in a bed thanks to kidney stones, and he watched as Whyte ran away with the title.
Many times during the year Brazilian superstar Joao Moreira was close to catching Purton, but it was Purton’s discipline and ability to avoid many suspensions that helped him maintain his title lead from late in 2013.
The only down light to Purton’s glittering campaign was when he lost his position as the rider on reigning horse of the year Military Attack following a falling out with trainer John Moore.
So what’s next for Purton? A stint in Japan with fellow Australian Nash Rawiller is on the cards, but he would like to fill the hole left by his lack of Group 1 winners back home. He achieved that once in April aboard Sacred Falls, but the marquee rides for him have been few and far between.
Maybe just maybe if given the chance, he could ride to an elusive Melbourne Cup victory. It wouldn’t be the first time a Hong Kong based jockey has tasted success on the first Tuesday in November.