Champion horses and their jockeys are racing’s great double acts. Seabiscuit had Red Pollard, Secretariat had Ron Turcotte, Hugh Bowman is forever Winx’s man, Frankel wowed with Tom Queally up top, time after time Mike Smith unleashed Zenyatta, and then there’s Silent Witness and Felix Coetzee, Black Caviar and Luke Nolen, Brigadier Gerard and Joe Mercer, Goldikova and Olivier Peslier.
Plenty more throughout history are worthy of mention and mixing it with those iconic pairings is the dominant duo of Beauty Generation and Zac Purton – the iron horse of Hong Kong and his poised partner.
Purton and Beauty Generation will team for the 25th time on Sunday (26 April) in the HK$20 million Group 1 FWD Champions Mile. They have garnered 15 wins together so far, seven at Group 1 level, including the past two editions of their upcoming assignment, and 10 of their wins came in a perfect sequence between April 2018 and October 2019.
“They’ve became an inseparable pair, the two of them have married up very well,” Beauty Generation’s trainer John Moore says.
“Zac knows him like part of his family now, he knows when he’s on song and he knows when he’s not. He knows his mood and of course he knows how to get the best out of him in a race, where to be, where not be, when to ask him for that race-winning effort.”
Beauty Generation is an aggressive character, known for driving intruders out of his box, biting and buffeting his long-suffering groom Lau Wai-kit, toying with regular work rider Romain Clavreul, wanting things his way. But when it comes to business, when Purton slides his toes into the irons and holds the reins, it’s a different Beauty Generation.
“He’s such a gentle horse to ride on race day,” the three-time Hong Kong champion jockey says. “He just gets out of the gates, bowls along, does his thing, makes his own luck – they’re the horses you dream of riding really.”
It wasn’t always this way. Like many a lasting partnership, it took some work to figure out and even a brief separation along the way.
Beauty Generation made his name in Australia as Montaigne and at the time he arrived at Sha Tin Purton was in the process of cementing a relationship with the Kwok family, whose growing string of horses already included the top-class Beauty Only.
Purton rode Beauty Generation in all of the gelding’s seven starts as a four-year-old for two wins. He was bought as a Hong Kong Derby prospect and finished third in that 2000m feature before going on to set a Sha Tin track record for 2200m in a Class 2 handicap.
At the start of the following term, Beauty Only was Purton’s big mile hope and so Derek Leung was handed the reins on Beauty Generation when the two Kwok gallopers met first-up in a 1400m Group 3 handicap. Leung and Beauty Generation made all under a feather weight for a shock win. That pairing repeated the trick in a 1600m Group 2 handicap but then placed third in the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile. That reversal prompted Purton to stay aboard Beauty Only in the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile three weeks later.
But Beauty Generation won that as well for Leung. Purton regained the ride after Beauty Generation managed only seventh for Leung in the Group 1 Stewards’ Cup in January 2018. The Australian ace has ridden the powerful bay in all bar one of his subsequent races and the last 16 without intrusion.
“I’d never had a horse of his calibre in my career, it was one thing that was lacking, and he finally came along,” Purton says.
“Every jockey looks for that one big horse in their career. I rode good horses and won big races, but I never had that one horse at that level that I could ride over a long period of time. The others, I’d been on and off at various stages of their career but this guy, I’ve pretty much ridden him right through his time in Hong Kong. I got off him for a few starts but I haven’t missed too many races on him.”
Moore recognises the value of having one of the world’s best jockeys as his stable superstar’s close partner. Purton’s exquisite judgement has, after all, been key to the gelding being able to maintain searching fractions on the front end and still pull out more when it matters.
“It’s very important to have a partnership like this – how they gel is very important,” the handler says. “Zac and ‘Beauty’ did gel a long time ago and you can see it in how the horse performs for him and how Zac knows what Beauty Generation can do.”
Purton hopes the Road To Rock gelding can do what no other horse has managed to do before and win the Champions Mile for a third time. A victory on Sunday would also see the seven-year-old notch a 19th win as a Hong Kong-trained galloper, one more than the mighty Silent Witness. He is already the track record holder at a mile and Hong Kong’s all-time leading money earner with more than HK$100 million banked.
“Three Champions Miles, it’s never been done before,” Purton says. “I don’t know what the Group 1 record is for horses in Hong Kong but he might be looking at setting a new record there.”
Silent Witness holds something of a record for the most elite wins by a Hong Kong-trained horse. He won nine senior features but they were accrued in the days when most were domestic only and designated HK Group 1 – his two ‘full’ Group 1 wins came in the 2003 and 2004 editions of the Hong Kong Sprint.
River Verdon and Viva Pataca each won eight majors but again that was in the days before ‘full’ Group 1 recognition. All of Beauty Generation’s Group 1 wins are fully accredited internationally, so he is already the kingpin of Hong Kong racing measured on Group 1 races won and another on Sunday would pull him upsides Silent Witness’s nine major features.
“He’ll push the prize money record a little bit higher on Sunday too – there’s not much more he can do. He’s done everything and he deserves the credit he’s going to get,” the champion jockey says.
“He’s broken and set and equalled a lot of records in Hong Kong. He’s going to be remembered.”
And so too will Purton for his part in the brilliant bay’s incredible success.