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Zac v Joao: The penultimate battle

Two meetings to go in the enthralling race for the Hong Kong jockeys' premiership, with just two winners separating Zac Purton and incumbent champion Joao Moreira.

Nine race card at Happy Valley, turf "B" course, Wednesday July 13

Zac Purton: 132 wins

Joao Moreira: 130 wins

THE SCENE-SETTER

When Joao Moreira is hot, he can go on a tear that few jockeys can match. When things go wrong though, it can show. The body language says it all and his kinetic riding style loses rhythm. 

One wonders if three second placings after an early win on Sunday might have the Brazilian deflated and feeling like it isn’t his season. 

The runner-up finish on Proud Dragon was particularly deflating. Had it not been for a shoulder-charge in the straight that kept him in a pocket, he would have won.

The silver lining to those seconds? It has kicked him seven clear in number of runner-up finishes  (100 to Purton’s 93) which act as a tie-breaker if the two riders are level on wins after Sunday’s season finale. As this stays close, holding that tie-breaker seems like an extra win.

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Joao Moreira wins on Excellent Peers at Happy Valley on May 25. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit /Getty Images)

THE KEY MATCH-UP: Race 8, Class 3 (1200m)

Zac Purton: 4. Yo Beauty

Joao Moreira: 6. Excellent Peers

Frankie Lor’s Excellent Peers is gunning for three straight with Moreira aboard and gets another low draw, but Purton has jumped back on the early race favourite Yo Beauty at the right time.

Yo Beauty’s last three runs have been encouraging – the former 80 rater, a Listed winner out of Ireland, has found his mark at the bottom of Class 3 –  and if Purton finds a one off spot from barrier six he will be right in this.

Alex Badel came out gunning for the lead from a wide gate last time and ended up posted wide facing the breeze, then endured some bumper car action in the middle stages before Yo Beauty regathered to find the line late. The start before that Yo Beauty was pushed hard to find the lead and was exposed early, before hanging on for third. Yo Beauty is blessed with handy gate speed which can unleash Purton’s tactical mastery. 

ZAC'S BEST: R2 No. 1 Victorious Seeker

It is a common misconception among Hong Kong racing fans that there is a mad scramble for rides on declaration day. It may be for some riders low down on the food chain but the apex predators Purton and Moreira seize their prey weeks or even a month in advance.

So it would be for Victorious Seeker, which looms as a going away gift for retiring trainer Paul O’Sullivan and a huge boost to Purton’s premiership push early in the night.

From the moment Victorious Seeker was re-handicapped into Class 5 after an unplaced effort at Happy Valley on June 8, Purton would have had his eyes on this one. The six-year-old won in Class 4 earlier in the term, and won over this tricky course and distance last season. Unlike many horses that drop to cellar grade, Victorious Seeker has run some reasonable races since. Barrier two gives Purton some options to watch how things unfold in what could be a tactical or stop-start race. 

Purton and O’Sullivan have enjoyed great success over the years, most notably with the five-time Group One winner Aerovelocity, but they have also struck gold with many horses in this exact situation.

JOAO'S BEST: R3 No. 5 Yellow Fin

Bounded in the air at start last time and ended up back and wide in a messy race. All Moreira needs to do is jump clean, take a position from barrier one and he should win here. Yellowfin meets Sergeant Pepper seven pounds better, and this time it is Sergeant Pepper at a barrier disadvantage, getting gate eight here after jumping from four last time.  

THE EDGE

Moreira has the ammunition and the right barrier draws to get a win closer, or even draw level, heading into the season finale. Moreira was installed $2.50 Jockey Challenge favourite by the Jockey Club odds men, with Purton around $3.50, and that seems right. 

On balance, Moreira starts strong and Purton finishes better. 

Zac Purton v Joao Moreira, July 13

Zac PurtonJoao Moreira
Race 1Raging BlazeWhiskey Neat
Race 2Victorious SeekerAmazing Boy
Race 3VamosYellowfin
Race 4Triple TripleSugar Sugar
Race 5Blissful StarAmigos Giggle
Race 6Wood On FireTimestorm
Race 7Looking GreatE Legend
Race 8Yo BeautyExcellent Peers
Race 9GorytusSavaquin
Race 10Captain WinKeefy

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