David Morgan

Chief Journalist


Zac Purton is facing up to the challenge of change on the eve of another campaign

Hong Kong’s champion jockey talks to the Report amid his preparations for the season ahead.

Zac Purton has been to the chiropractor. Next stop, the physio.

“Got to at my age,” he tells the Report.

It is an afternoon of preparation for the champion jockey with only four days until the Hong Kong season starts and the intense physical demands of competition begin again.   

“I’m almost 40,” he points out. “My body is not what it once was. I’ve had to keep fighting to push through the injuries as I’ve got older.”

Purton is not only an ageing athlete but also a warrior in his chosen arena: he has faced a whole stack of injuries in his time and climbed off the recovery bed to go again, often with the pain still raw; he has gritted his teeth to kidney stones and healing fractures while riding one to post; and he has adapted to manage the day-to-day niggles and aches of back, joints and muscles. He is also a realist.

“The older you are, the harder it becomes and as a sportsman you can’t go on forever,” he says, stating a truth that rings eternally whatever the sport.

The older you are, the harder it becomes and as a sportsman you can’t go on forever.

“I’ve done the work in the mornings for this season,” he adds. “I feel I’m ready to go back to the races, the horses are ready to go back to the races and this is why we do it, to compete. I’m looking forward to that aspect of it.”

But one aspect that will be missing from the Hong Kong season opener – and at least the next meeting at Happy Valley as well – is the competition with Joao Moreira, his long-time rival for the jockeys’ premiership. The Brazilian is recovering from the treatment of unspecified injuries.


Jockey Zac Purton edges out fierce rival Joao Moreira. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

“Joao has his problems but the start of every season is always a new challenge: the dynamic changes,” Purton observes. “This time we’ve got two new trainers coming in (Pierre Ng and Jamie Richards), we’ve had Paul O’Sullivan retire, so that changes things as well. It’s all different, another challenge, another season.”

He has just posted a picture to Instagram. Light, beige-toned shorts and t-shirt, his latest Nike footwear, and a baseball cap with a striking logo ‘The King’, standing alongside his chiropractor at her treatment room in the heart of Hong Kong’s Central district; both are masked, of course, in Hong Kong’s Covid-restricted bubble, their eyes smiling for the posed shot.

“There are still a few days to go so I haven’t really got my game face on yet. I’m just cruising through these last few days trying to get my weight back to where it needs to be and get ready to launch,” he says with an almost blasé dismissal of the onerous task to reduce his weight after a wholesome family holiday in the Maldives.

He will ride at 120lb this season (with 2lb allowable overweight). The Hong Kong Jockey Club raised the handicap weights by 2lb in late June – bottomweight up from 113lb to 115lb – and that has meant that Purton, by sticking at 120lb, rather than opting to go up to a more comfortable 121lb or 122lb himself, has the pick of more horses to ride.

Zac Purton celebrates his fifth Hong Kong jockeys title. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit /Getty Images)

“For that short period of time at the end of last season I didn’t pick up any extra winners,” he says. “You’d think it should help. It used to be that I couldn’t ride 25 percent of the horses in a race and I think now it gives me an extra five percent of horses I can ride, so whether it ends up working out that way, we’ll see.

“It might give me the chance to stay on some of those young horses coming through the grades that I would normally lose when they climb into the bottom of the next grade.”

He hopes David Hayes might have a few of those in his team. To meet the challenge and ride the winners that may or may not take him through to next July and a sixth champion jockey title in Hong Kong, he is looking to Hayes as a platform of support. Four of his nine rides on opening day are Hayes horses.

“He’s been back for a couple of seasons now,” he says. “Some horses have had time to settle in and he’s got a nice bunch of new horses as well so I think he has a good balance across his stable. He should have a decent season.”

Trainer David Hayes after Lucky With You's victory at Sha Tin. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit /Getty Images)

It is no secret that the last three years have been tough for Hong Kong’s residents but jockeys have had to abide by stricter rules than the general populace, put in place by the HKJC as an added protection for its lucrative product.

Purton was as eager as anyone to leave the city for a long overdue break when the season concluded almost eight weeks ago.

“It was nice to get away,” he says with a sigh. “It was certainly refreshing to be out of Hong Kong for a little bit and enjoy a holiday; we hadn’t been out of Hong Kong for three years so that was nice. Then you come back here and sort of nothing has changed from where we were last season, so that is a little bit frustrating.

“Hong Kong in general and the Covid situation, it’s still in the same rut, and the Jockey Club with its restrictions, those things haven’t changed.”

But change is inevitable and even Hong Kong’s Covid restrictions will have an end at some point: in life, as in sport, nothing lasts forever. 



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