Zac Purton is the man of the moment and the in-form jockey could yet propel John Moore deeper into the thick of a trainers’ championship battle when they team up again at Sha Tin on Wednesday night.
Purton goes into the midweek fixture on 146 wins for the term: he has nine meetings from which to accrue enough victories to top Joao Moreira’s single-season wins record of 170. Moore, meanwhile, moved to within five wins of champion trainer John Size with a four-timer at the weekend and is clearly keen to enlist Purton to his cause.
The champion jockey has won on seven of 13 rides for Moore at the past five race meetings - including two from two on Sunday - and will climb aboard two more of the stable’s gallopers at the all-weather track fixture.
Buddies has already provided the duo with two wins in the past five weeks but the three-year-old must overcome the outside gate (14) if he is to complete his hat-trick in the Class 3 Lido Handicap (1650m).
“It’s never easy from that gate, at that start, there’s a lot of pressure going into that first turn,” Purton said of the course and distance winner. “I’ll be guided by what John says to do and by how the horse starts and how the horses inside me begin.
“It’s not going to be easy for us but the horse is progressing through his grades at the moment, he’s in good form and he’s in a good frame of mind, so it’s just a matter of having some luck going into that first corner and that will dictate the end result for us.”
Purton believes the So You Think gelding has enough about him at this stage of his development to seal his hat-trick, if all falls his way.
“But he also feels like he’s going to continue to improve,” the rider said. “I think in the last furlong of his races he just doesn't know how to close it off and really attack the line. His last couple of races, he’s put them away between the 400 (metres) and the 200 (metres), so once he takes that next step again there’s more in the tank for him.”
And the champ is taking confidence from a more mature performance in Buddies’ most recent win, a 1400m score on turf.
“Last time he showed that he was more versatile and I suppose that’s what a little bit of confidence does as well, he didn’t shirk the task. When I asked him he sprinted well and put them away, whereas previously he’d been there and failed to close his races off. I still think there’s more in store for him for next season,” Purton said.
Buddies and Zac Purton, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Luck to the dirt
The Australian ace will also get the leg up on the Moore-trained Touch Of Luck in section one of the Class 4 Tong Fuk Handicap (1650m). The gelding transferred to Moore from Chris So this spring and Purton was in the plate for a breakthrough score under Moore’s watch in a 1600m turf contest late last month.
“He didn't begin clean, so he was a little bit further back than I thought I’d be, but I got a nice run through the field and he closed it off well. Hopefully he’s taken a bit of confidence out of that,” Purton said.
The rider is not concerned about the switch to dirt track racing for the Hong Kong International Sale graduate, a son of the top-class dirt track galloper Hard Spun.
“He should handle it ok,” Purton said, “he’s always trialled well on it so that’s normally a pretty good indication of how they’re going to handle it under race conditions.
“He was a little bit keen in his work,” he continued, “he’s been a little bit like that throughout his career but going into his last run I only ever galloped him on his own and he was a little more relaxed. But I galloped him with a partner a few days ago and he was a little bit more stirred up than what he normally would be. But the horse feels good and he should be a chance.”
Purton has had the best season of his career to date and landed his 1000th Hong Kong career win on Saturday as he powers towards a third Hong Kong jockeys’ championship.
“I don't think (next season) I’ll be able to hit the milestones I had this season and to win the amount of races and the races that I’ve won. It would be very hard to do that again, so it will be a season I’ll forever remember and one that I will look back on fondly,” he said.
Wednesday’s Sha Tin action starts at 7.15pm with the second section of the Class 4 Tong Fuk Handicap (1650m).
The eight-race card also features the Class 2 Butterfly Bay Handicap (1200m) in which KOR G1 Korea Sprint runner-up Fight Hero, now trained by Michael Chang, will shoulder top-weight. The field also includes that galloper’s former stablemate, the Me Tsui-trained course specialist Ugly Warrior, as well as last start winner Fortune Booth and last season’s Champion Griffin, Pick Number One.