Michael Cox



On track and off, Purton is the master of the Hong Kong game

The Australian outpointed Joao Moreira 4-0 on the season’s final day to seal a fifth title.

For all of Zac Purton’s obvious stand-out attributes as a jockey – his picture-perfect seat on a horse, sharp tactical acumen and never-give-in tenacity in a finish – maybe the most underrated is his relationship-building with trainers in a notoriously fickle scene. 

At Sunday’s season finale at Sha Tin when Purton secured a career-defining fifth championship, kicking clear of the four-time champion Joao Moreira with a four-timer, the wins came from alliances old and new, expat and local, and, in the case of trainer Douglas Whyte, unlikely. 

Ten years ago when the rivalry between the long-time champion jockey Whyte and the brazen new challenger Purton was reaching its peak there were the famous finger-pointing and taunts on the track and the personal jibes in the media. 

It wasn’t a rivalry as much as it was true enmity: Purton called Whyte ‘a bully’ and ‘overrated’, Whyte returned serve and labelled Purton ‘up himself’.


Zac Purton sends a pointed message to Douglas Whyte after claiming the 2012 Hong Kong Mile aboard Ambitious Dragon. (Photo by Getty Images)

On Sunday they embraced after Purton secured the title on Whyte’s Turin Redsun. 

“We’ve been through a lot … It’s much nicer being his friend than his foe,” Purton said after making it mathematically impossible for Moreira to win the title with three races remaining. 

Minutes earlier all of Purton’s aforementioned on-track attributes were on display: he had stalked Moreira in the run and then outgunned him with relentless drive to the line.

Earlier still, for his first win of the day, it was his seemingly telepathic race-reading ability, when he avoided mid-race trouble on Torquoise Alpha and drove home from the rear of the field to send retiring trainer Paul O’Sullivan out a winner. 

“Tactically he is the best I have ever seen,” O’Sullivan said of the Australian.

Tactically he (Purton) is the best I have ever seen.

O’Sullivan retired on Sunday with more than 500 Hong Kong winners and Purton rode 128 of them. 

“That is the most wins by any rider for me by far,” O’Sullivan said. “He jumped off the horse and gave me a big hug. We have been through a lot together and I have become great friends with him and his wife Nicole.

“He is the ultimate professional. He won’t ride for you because you are a nice guy. I offered him whatever I could over the years and if he could ride it, great, and if not, that was fine.”

Zac Purton embraces Paul O'Sullivan after the win of Torquoise Alpha (Photo: HKJC)

O’Sullivan arrived a season before Purton and although he liked the jockey then, they were both battling to get ahead. “He was struggling, it was a tough jockey roster in those days – a lot of talent and experience – I would have liked to have supported him more then but I wasn’t doing that well either. There wasn’t much I could do for him, and he couldn’t do anything for me.”

That changed as Purton’s stature grew, and O’Sullivan’s stable grew. The pair enjoyed Group One success in three countries within a six-month period with Aerovelocity.

O’Sullivan noted that even though Whyte and Purton clashed, Purton watched and learned how the 13-time champion conducted his business away from the track.

“Zac worked out from watching Douglas that if he wanted to be champion jockey, you can’t be going out and getting on the beers after the races on a Sunday night, you need to be watching the replays of races and getting on Whatsapp, messaging some trainers and making connections,” O’Sullivan said, adding that the 39-year-old Purton had become something of a statesman after 15 seasons in Hong Kong. 

“He is an extremely intelligent man, well read, he knows what is going on in the world,” O’Sullivan said. 

Champion jockey Zac Purton celebrates the moment with his wife Nicole, daughter Roxy and son Cash. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit /Getty Images)

Purton’s haul also included an earlier victory for long-time ally David Hall, aboard Never Too Soon, and a win on Lucky Sweynesse pushed him four full wins clear, 136-132, on a day when Moreira drew a blank. 

The Purton and Moreira rivalry has always seemed like a mutual admiration society compared to the animosity-filled battles Whyte had with Purton and Prebble. But still, there was genuine emotion shown by Purton after he sealed the championship. 

“I want to pay respect to Joao as well,” he said. “It has been a difficult season, and a difficult last three years for all of us here in Hong Kong, through the Covid lockdowns and having to home school the kids. We’ve both had our health issues, so it has been really, really tough. It’s energy sapping, we’re both right at the end of our tether so it’s nice that we can close it today and both go on holiday, then come back and do it again next season.” 



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