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Zac v Joao: A ‘legacy-defining’ finale

With 132 season wins and four jockeys' championships apiece, this legacy-defining season finale showdown also comes with a growing sense that both Purton and Moreira may not be long for Sha Tin. 

11-race card at Sha Tin, turf "A" course, Saturday July 17

Zac Purton: 132 wins

Joao Moreira: 132 wins

THE SCENE-SETTER

‘Legacy defining’. It might sound like hyperbole but, fairly or not, the results from Saturday’s season-finale will guide how racing fans will judge and compare the careers of champion jockeys Zac Purton and Joao Moreira for decades to come. 

The two riders are locked on 132 wins after Happy Valley on Wednesday but they are also tied on four Hong Kong jockeys’ championships each. 

This season finale showdown also comes with a growing sense that both jockeys may not be long for Sha Tin. 

On the question of his future, Moreira is silent – he seems to be on an unofficial, self-imposed media ban – but ever since his failed attempt to flee to the Japan Racing Association back in 2018, rumours about the Brazilian have persisted. 

In contrast, Purton has been making noises like he has grown seriously tired of Sha Tin, and is worn down physically and mentally, especially under the strict Covid protocols of the last two seasons. 

Last month Purton told The Report’s chief journalist David Morgan “I doubt either of us will be here five years from now,” on his and Moreira’s futures in the city, and when speaking to Australian sports radio on Thursday, he seemed to go a step further, suggesting he may retire due to injuries. 

“I’ll go away for the off-season, I’ll come back, and if my body feels good then I’ll go on,” he said. “If it doesn’t, then that will be it.” 

Purton does have a long history of delivering big off-the-cuff quotes to Australian media outlets, but this is one worth listening to for the Jockey Club executives.

It is as if both jockeys have fought themselves to a standstill and it would not surprise to see either walk away from Hong Kong at any stage.

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Zac Purton and John Size celebrate the conclusion of the 2018-19 racing season on Season Finale Raceday at Sha Tin. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit /Getty Images)

In the eight seasons since Moreira joined Purton on the Hong Kong jockey roster, nobody else has come close to winning, but none of the championships have been particularly close either. Purton’s first came when Moreira arrived in October and after that Moreira’s first three were romps.

Moreira’s topline numbers during that stretch were amazing, 145, 168 and 170 wins, but the winning margins to Purton tell the true story: Moreira won the 2014-15, 16 and 17 titles by 50, 88 and 67 wins respectively. 

Since then the disruption of Moreira’s dalliance with Japan and injuries to both riders has ensured there has never been a championship contest as close as this. 

That closeness – and the uncertainty surrounding each jockey’s future – make this season finale one to appreciate. 

THE KEY MATCH-UP: Race 8, Class 1, 115-90 (1600m)

Zac Purton: 7. Turin Redsun

Joao Moreira: 9. Money Catcher

A few weeks ago Purton said to The Report during an interview “wouldn’t it make a story if I rode a winner for Douglas Whyte that helped me win the championship?” 

Purton, who was of course at Whyte’s throat for much of their rivalry, would have known about this ride then and his prediction may yet prove prescient. 

Turin Redsun was beaten a short-head as favourite in a Group Three last time out and seems a Group One horse in the making. 

The jockeys climb aboard a pair of decent prospects that played prominent roles in this year’s four-year-old series. 

Moreira’s ride Money Catcher was third in the Classic Cup and Hong Kong Derby, but it is what he has done in races against all ages that shows he should climb into triple figure ratings. 

A mile might seem too sharp on paper, but being in the first three in Sha Tin mile races – or even out in front controlling – where Money Catcher will be, isn’t a bad place to be.

ZAC'S BEST: R11 No. 5 Tuchel

If Purton thinks riding a winner for Whyte would make a good story, what if this comes down to the last and it is Moreira’s man John Size providing the victory for his arch-rival?

Still, for all of our focus on John Size’s support for Purton, over Moreira, late in the season, the burgeoning partnership has only amounted to six winless rides in the past four meetings. Tuchel was one of those nearly two weeks ago but that was on a rain-affected track. There could be rain on Saturday but if Tuchel gets good ground he can break through for another victory. 

JOAO'S BEST: R2 No. 9 Winwin Thirtythree

The two Class 5 races to open the day will be crucial if Moreira wants to get in front and stay there. First is the zero-from-18 and 20-rated Vector, which has drawn wide; next is Winwin Thirtythree, zero-from-14 this season. It’s hardly inspiring reading for Moreira but somebody has got to win these races and Winwin Thirtythree looks well-placed from the draw here. 

THE EDGE

One of the most curious aspects of the Joao Moreira and Zac Purton rivalry is the obsession with claiming underdog status and the unwavering insistence that the other rider is always favourite. 

But it isn’t so hard to understand when you consider the humble beginnings; Zac as the scrawny, underdeveloped kid in Coffs Harbour, Australia, too small for other sports but keen on giving racing a go, and Moreira, running barefoot and begging for change around the streets of Curitiba, Brazil. 

There is no point asking either who has the edge. 

“It’s obviously Zac, who has many more favourites than me,” Moreira told us, on the same day Purton declared “I don’t have a championship-winning book of rides.”

The truly funny part of it all will be watching them both walk into the parade ring on Saturday like absolute alphas who expect to win every race they ride in. 

Purton has the quality and the quantity here to win it. His great skill in managing relationships has come to the fore and he has booked a final day set of rides that should deliver him a fifth jockeys’ championship. 

Zac Purton v Joao Moreira, July 17

Zac PurtonJoao Moreira
Race 1Good BeautyVector
Race 2Mission SmartWinwin Thirtythree
Race 3AeroversaryOver The Moon
Race 4Youthful Deal-
Race 5Turquoise AlphaChater Pins
Race 6All Is GoodSuper Highway
Race 7Never Too SoonRed Titan
Race 8Turin RedsunMoney Catcher
Race 9Global HarmonyAdios
Race 10Lucky SweynesseJumbo Fortune
Race 11TuchelChavalier Prince

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