Zac Purton has joined Douglas Whyte and Frankie Dettori as a triple winner of the LONGINES International Jockeys’ Championship, claiming the title without a victory in the four-race series at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (8 December) to add further lustre to a phenomenal resume.
Four days after overtaking Whyte as the winner of the most prizemoney as a jockey in Hong Kong racing history, Purton amassed 22 points with three seconds and a third under the 12 points for a win, six for second and four for third format.
The Australian’s consistency propelled him to a third title in five seasons in the HK$800,000 series, having previously triumphed in 2017 and 2020.
With second placings on Glorious Lover, Amazing One Plus and Shining Gem and a third on Circuit Seven, Purton out-pointed the winners of the four individual championship legs – Tom Marquand, Hollie Doyle, James McDonald and Mickael Barzalona – who shared a four-way tie for second with 12 points each.
Purton, 38, earned HK$500,000, while the runners-up collected HK$75,000.
David Hayes claimed the trainers’ championship prize of HK$200,000 with a win – Awesome Treasure – and two thirds to finish with 20 points, eight clear of John Size, Caspar Fownes, Manfred Man and Ricky Yiu (12).
Purton was elated to prevail again despite the frustrating run of minor placings.
“I came here a little bit worried about the quality of horses I was riding and knew that I was going to need things go my way and luckily I was able to get some nice runs on them and give them their chances,” he said.
“It was a bit frustrating I kept getting beaten in those photos, but I suppose that makes for good racing and a good competition. The points added up, it’s very satisfying.”
Marquand and Doyle in the mix
In an engrossing battle for supremacy, defending champion Purton was one of seven riders with a mathematical chance of winning the series heading into the last leg, leading with 16 points, with Marquand, Doyle and McDonald locked in a three-way tie for second with 12 points.
Alexis Badel (six), Ryan Moore and Joao Moreira (four each) also had the chance to overtake Purton.
But Barzalona’s driving finish on John Size’s Elon in the final leg enabled the Frenchman to snare 12 points, leaving Purton to clinch the series with six points for second on Shining Gem with Moore receiving four points for Hong Kong Bet’s third.
In a competition where visiting riders won all four legs, Englishman Marquand shot to the top of the table with victory on Hayes-trained Awesome Treasure in the first leg, a Class 4 handicap over 1000m, claiming the maximum 12 points. Badel collected six points aboard Fabulous Eight, with Purton scooping four points on Circuit Seven.
Hayes, who celebrated a double at the meeting, was delighted to share victory with Marquand, who rode in Australia for the dual Hong Kong champion trainer in 2019.
“I had a bit of luck with him (Marquand) when no-one knew him in Australia. I loved his strength that last 200 (metres),” said Hayes, who also snared a Happy Valley brace last week.
“It's nice to keep things moving and long may it continue.”
Marquand said: “My first foreign forays were down in Australia for David when I’d had just under a year’s riding and I had a bit of success there. It’s absolutely great to be back riding for him here.
“This win ranks extremely highly in my career because riding against the world’s best jockeys, it’s pretty hard to top.”
Doyle soon matched her fiancée Marquand’s feat, displaying tremendous strength aboard Manfred Man’s Viva Hunter in the second leg, a Class 4 over 1650m. Purton earned six points for second atop Glorious Lover, while Moore picked up four points on Ai One.
Doyle said: “I thought I had been headed home. It (winning) is just as good if not better (than last year). It’s good to have a crowd here, it lifts the atmosphere and I’m blessed to have had the luck I’ve had.
“It’s very special to win against the world’s best jockeys and it’s a huge honour for Tom and I to be asked back here.”
How It Happened
McDonald delivered Caspar Fownes-trained Invincible Missile with impeccable timing to annexe the third leg, a Class 3 over 1650m, leaving Purton to earn six points for second on Amazing One Plus with Moreira pocketing four points on Red Majesty.
Moreira struck first on the undercard with Me Tsui’s Mister Arm in the Class 5 Australia Handicap (1650m). A son of Pierro, Mister Arm backed up a last-start third to score emphatically before Moreira completed a double two races later with Size’s Touch Faith in the Class 5 Japan Handicap (1200m).
Blake Shinn hailed Fearless Fire’s tenacity after the Acclamation gelding landed the Class 4 France Handicap (1650m) for David Hayes, controlling the race from the front. It was Shinn’s fourth victory over the course and distance aboard Fearless Fire.
“He’s been a great horse to me and a great horse to David and the team. He’s a horse you can rely on. I said he’s one of the toughest horses in Hong Kong, he mightn’t be the best, but you can really trust him,” Shinn said.
David Hall unveiled a promising talent in Flying Ace, who surged from the tail of the field on the turn under Matthew Poon to win the Class 4 New Zealand Handicap (1200m). Unraced, the son of Swiss Ace drew barrier 10 and was wayward in the straight but was still too strong.
Frankie Lor’s Fa Fa extended his lead in the DBS x Manulife Million Challenge and earned a High Achievement Bonus of HK$1 million by winning the Class 2 United Kingdom Handicap (1800m) under Vincent Ho. The son of He’s Remarkable has won his past five starts, including four on end this season.
Hong Kong racing continues at Sha Tin on Sunday (12 December) with the staging of the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races with the running of four G1s – the Hong Kong Sprint (1200m), Hong Kong Mile (1600m), Hong Kong Cup (2000m) and Hong Kong Vase (2400m).
By Leo Schlink