One Group 1 win on Sunday (8 December) will see Zac Purton become the outright most successful rider in the history of the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races.
His victory 12 months ago aboard Beauty Generation in the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile drew him level at the head of the pack with Gerald Mosse on eight wins, and with a mount in each of the four feature contests, including associations with two champions, the Australian ace has the all-time record on his radar.
“I always know what the records are and what needs to be done, it drives me and motivates me,” Purton said.
“It gets me going, so it’s something extra for me to think about at the meeting. But, at the end of the day, I concentrate on riding winners and those kinds of things take care of themselves.”
Purton’s HKIR book is the envy of most: he will hold the reins on three of the four winners from last year, two of whom he rode: the hat-trick-seeking Beauty Generation in the Mile, and Exultant in the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase. He has picked up the mount on LONGINES Hong Kong Cup defending champ Glorious Forever, and is pushing himself to a featherweight to partner the most exciting young horse on the Sha Tin stable block, the John Moore-trained Aethero, in the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint.
“I’m bang on, right on target where I want to be with my weight and I’ve just got to maintain it now. I’ve only got a day to go, so I’ve just got to hold it together and I’ll be fine. Hopefully it’s worth it,” he said.
Purton, though, is under no illusions as to the task facing his precocious mount, who, as a Southern Hemisphere three-year-old, will benefit from an 8lb weight concession (assuming Purton puts up 1lb over as expected) from seasoned rivals.
“It’s a strong race. I think it’s the strongest Sprint I’ve seen in a while so he’s going to need to do everything right, and if he does, hopefully he’s good enough. He’s been very impressive in everything that he’s done, he’s untapped and I’m looking forward to testing him against the big horses this weekend.”
The biggest Hong Kong horse of recent times, of course, is the Moore-trained Beauty Generation but the world’s top-rated miler and two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year will need to put behind him two recent defeats if he is to become only the second horse after Good Ba Ba to win the Mile three times.
“We’re all hopeful that John’s been able to work his magic and the spark’s going to be there,” Hong Kong’s champion jockey said.
“John knows what it takes to train these top-line horses for these races on the big days and I’ve got the utmost confidence in him to be able to produce the horse right on this big day. Sure, we’ve been a bit disappointed with his last couple of runs, as everyone has, but he hasn’t been getting beat far and if we can just find that spark again, that’s all it’s going to take.”
Exultant certainly sparked last time out – an impressive win in the Group 2 Jockey Club Cup (2000m) that emphasised his standing as the circuit’s best middle-distance/staying galloper. With the Vase the first big one on the card, he could nail the record early on for his rider but will have to overcome gate 14 to do so.
“It’s a shame we drew where we did with him. It makes it a little bit tricky being out that wide. I haven’t had a good look at the race yet but we’ll work that out,” Purton said.
“I know he’s going to give me his best, he always does, and he’s going to fly the flag for Hong Kong, and hopefully do us proud again.”
Silvestre de Sousa drove Glorious Forever to Cup glory in 2018 but Purton has picked up the ride this time on the in-and-out gelding. Frankie Lor’s charge has not won since and heads in off two uninspiring runs this term, but Purton is not ruling out a return to form for the vanguard racer who could vie for the early lead with his full brother Time Warp.
“Glorious Forever was disappointing last time but he’s that kind of horse, he looks good one day and not so good the next day, it’s just a matter of the circumstances in the race. I think the small field will help him, the barrier draw is nice, he’s going to get a nice run, he gets his chance if he’s good enough. He’s going to be in the right spot,” Purton said.