Zac Purton is anticipating a tough ride in his bid for a fourth International Jockeys' Championship at Happy Valley on Wednesday, December 7.
The five-time Hong Kong Champion Jockey won the championship in 2017 as well as the last two years but thinks this year's edition has a fierce look to it.
“It's always the unknown,” he said. “I've just picked up my rides and I haven't had a chance to digest their chances and the opposition yet, but one thing I have noticed this year is there is quite a lot of depth to the races. It creates an exciting contest and I'm looking forward to it again.”
“These are the best jockeys from around the world and they've had the most success in recent times as well. They're all in good form and it creates an element of interest for everyone.
“These are the biggest stars in our sport so to be able to compete with them on a night like this is an opportunity I appreciate. I enjoy having them in town and catching up with them as friends too, so it's good to see some familiar faces.
“I think the races are going to be competitive and hopefully I can fly the flag for Hong Kong again.”
Purton could hit the board early as his ride in the opening leg, Supreme Lucky, which will break from the advantageous inside stall, and he is confident he can put his course experience to good use against the visiting riders.
“My local knowledge plays into my hand for sure,” he said. “I know the track, I ride here every week and I know the horses so it certainly swings the lever in my favour.”
The rider will be partnered with Copartner Era and Xponential for the first time in rounds two and four, while he has ridden his third-leg mount Packing Famous to a fifth-place finish at the track in the past.
While he is familiar with the horses and the form, the jockey is preparing for the unexpected against his fellow world-class riders and believes their relationships with their horses could complicate plans.
He said: “We have a new set of jockeys coming in with different racing styles and they might ride the horses differently to what they're previously ridden – things change and you have to adapt.”
Wednesday's meeting will provide Purton with the opportunity to tune up for Sunday's Hong Kong International Races, when he will partner Lucky Sweynesse in the HK$24 million Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and California Spangle in the HK$30 million Group 1 Hong Kong Mile (1600m).
“The Hong Kong horses are a little bit light on the top end at the moment, we don't have much depth in Group 1 races. Apart from Romantic Warrior in the Cup, I didn't think there was anything worth riding locally and in the Vase, I thought we'd struggle,” he said.
While Purton fears three-time Group 1 winner Wellington, he is optimistic for a big run from Lucky Sweynesse, who produced a powerful late surge to take the Group 2 Jockey Club Sprint (1200m) last time.
2022 Jockey Club Sprint
“Lucky Sweynesse is on the improve,” he said. “Wellington wasn't at his best last time so he still worries me a lot if he comes back and puts his best foot forward he's going to be very hard to beat, but my guy has trained on really well so if I can get a good gate and get a smooth run on him he's going to be competitive.”
Last season's Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) winner California Spangle was sent off favourite and got to within a neck of Golden Sixty in last month's Group 2 Jockey Club Mile (1600m) and while Purton is still feeling the frustration, he is itching for another crack at defeating the outstanding champion.
He said: “We've tried everything in our trick book to try and beat him and we haven't been able to. Last time stung a little bit as I thought everything was in our favour, we were race fit and we had the tempo run to suit, the weight in our favour and the track bias.
“I thought we had the race for a moment but once I felt Golden Sixty breathing down my neck, I knew he was going to get me. We'll see how we begin and the race is being run on the day. Barriers become important and it's not until I see them I can form a tactic and how I might be able to beat him.”
The International Jockeys' Championship meeting starts at Happy Valley on Wednesday, December 7 with the running of the Class 4 Australia Handicap (1650m) at 6.30pm HKT.