Zac Purton knows he has a real fight on his hands to defend his Hong Kong champion jockey crown and prevent arch rival Joao Moreira from claiming the title for a fourth time.
After entering Sunday’s meeting at Sha Tin at the top of the table, Purton, despite riding a double, ended the day two winners behind Moreira, as the Brazilian – nicknamed ‘Magic Man’ – recorded a five-timer.
Although the season in Hong Kong does not end until July, Purton, 37, feels momentum is now in favour of Moreira, who was crowned champion on three consecutive occasions between 2014 and 2017.
Purton – famed for his association with the brilliant Beauty Generation – said: “Let’s see what happens. At the moment Joao has got a lot more support than I have.
“The stables I ride for are probably not going quite as well as I would like them to be going and that makes things a little bit more difficult.
“In any sport, you want competition and that is what people tune in to see – for racing fans it is exciting seeing two jockeys like us battling it out.
“There are more people tuning in to watch racing in Hong Kong as unfortunately there are not too many sports on with the coronavirus outbreak, so if people are watching racing here for the first time it will hopefully give them something to keep interested in. ”
With racing currently on lockdown in many countries amid the coronavirus pandemic, Purton feels the reason it has continued in Hong Kong is down to people abiding by the measures put in place by the authorities there.
He said: “I think the great thing about being in Hong Kong is that the local people really take it seriously by wearing masks, glasses and gloves and they are always sanitising their hands.
“They are very good at staying at home and working from home and that is why we didn’t have many cases early on. It is credit to the way the government and people have taken it seriously.
“It was only when people were coming back to Hong Kong and brought back this new second wave that has made it a little bit of a more panicked feeling, but I have no doubt we will be able to work through it.
“I might be relatively young and a fit person, but I don’t want to get it and pass it on to someone else. If that all means we have to stay at home then it is a small sacrifice to pay to keep society fit and healthy.”
Though racing behind closed doors may feel strange to some riders, it is an experience that reminds Purton of his early days in Australia.
He said: “We’ve been racing behind doors for a couple of months out here now and it has become the norm now. It is just good to be able to continue what we are doing.
“I got used to this sort of thing growing up riding at all the country bush tracks back home, as there wouldn’t be many spectators there so it is like going back to my apprentice days.
“For us as riders it doesn’t really matter there is no crowd there as we go out, talk to the trainer and discuss how we approach the race and go out on to the track, so the racing is very much the same.”
While the three-times champion jockey is now one of the most established members of the weighing room in Hong Kong it is a far cry to when he first arrived back in 2007.
He said: “This is my 13th season out here and the first one went really slow as it was difficult and hard to breakthrough.
“There were a lot of good jockeys out here when I arrived that had been here for over 10 years and I didn’t get many opportunities at first.
“Since then things have gone quicker and quicker and I’m glad that I stuck at it, it has all been worth it.”
Despite Purton missing out on the chance to win big races across the globe due to his contract with the Hong Kong Jockey Club, he expects to finish his career – when the time comes – in the place that he has made his name.
He said: “It is one of the things riding here as you are committed to the Hong Kong Jockey Club and it makes riding elsewhere hard.
“Of course I would have loved to have won an English Derby, an Arc de Triomphe, Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup, but they will just be dreams as because I’m committed here it is hard to make them reality.
“At this stage it looks like I will be riding out the rest of my career here. I love the lifestyle and the racing, so I see no reason to go home and finish my career, but there is still plenty of blood going through the veins at the moment.”