Zac Purton believes he will have to fight harder than ever before if he is to successfully defend his Hong Kong champion jockey title next season.
The 37-year-old claimed the coveted crown for a fourth time after an intense season-long battle with his long-standing rival Joao Moreira.
Though able to reflect fondly on another memorable campaign, the father of two, who ended the season with 147 winners, feels his task to remain at the top will be a challenge, with his key ally in recent seasons, veteran trainer John Moore, heading back to Australia.
He told PA: “It has always been competitive, but it will be very hard next season.
“With John Moore retiring, I’m going to need to hope I can fill that void and it might mean spreading my wings a little bit more.
“To be able to fight for the title you need good support and it will all depend where I get that support. I will be going out there and making sure I work hard for it.
“There is no doubt that Joao will come out hard next season. Both Karis Teetan and Vincent Ho have had good seasons as well. They seem to have plenty of support, so they could be challengers as well.”
When it comes to challenging for leading riding honours in Hong Kong, the multiple Group One-winning rider will always be close to top of the list. However, even he was slightly surprised to win title number four.
Purton said: “I felt Joao had better support than I had and he was getting better rides than I was getting. I felt like the momentum was with him last season.
“I just didn’t feel this season that I had a stable behind me that was really flying and I didn’t feel like I had the quality of rides needed to win a championship.
“But I grabbed the opportunities when I could and made the most of them. I think it probably was the hardest title I’ve won – but the one that has given me the most satisfaction.”
In any championship-winning campaign there will always be some results that mean more than others, and Purton nominates his first ever victory in the QEII Cup aboard the Tony Cruz-trained Exultant as his standout moment of the season.
He said: “The biggest highlight was Exultant winning the QEII Cup as it was the only Group One in Hong Kong that I hadn’t won.
“I had a number of placings in it without winning, so to tick that off and complete the set was good, as it does become frustrating no doubt about it – you only get one chance to win the race each season.
“I finally had the right horse for the race. The horse had been racing well all season and I had finally drawn a decent gate in it.
“It wasn’t the strongest field he has come up against. He was the best horse in the race and all I had to do was not get into trouble and make sure I got it right.”
Victory on Exultant may have been extra special for Purton given the significance it carried, but he identified two other moments that provided him with plenty of pleasure.
He added: “Riding the last four winners at Happy Valley a couple of Wednesday nights ago was another highlight. It really gave me some momentum at a crucial stage of the season in the jockeys’ championship.
“I suppose the other highlight would be Beauty Generation bouncing back to win the Group One Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup when everyone had written him off.
“I thought maybe we had seen the best of him as well, but John Moore trained him to get the best out of him and that is exactly what he got.
“That is what champions do – you think they have gone, but they have still got that one punch left.”
With Moore heading back to Australia it leaves Purton with a gap to fill, something he hopes two-time Hong Kong champion trainer David Hayes can help with after announcing his return to the region following a 15-year absence.
Purton said: “I’ve always ridden for John Moore on and off, but I’ve ridden for him a lot more in recent seasons on a lot of top-level rides. I’ve no doubt he will do well back in Australia, but racing in Hong Kong will really miss him.
“I think I’ve only ever ridden for David Hayes once in my career and he is a trainer I’m yet to really work with as he left Hong Kong before I arrived.
“He has been down at the track at Sha Tin in the mornings and I’ve been in conversation with him, although not on a one-to-one basis.
“He seems like a decent fellow. I just hope he has my number stored in his phone and gives it a call!”
Having been flat out for the best part of the last 10 months, Purton plans to take some much needed time out to recharge his batteries before the season starts in September and the hard work begins all over again.
He said: “I will take a month off to give my body a break. Having worked hard all season, I am looking forward to the break before we go again.”