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Advice from Frankie Dettori that paved the way for Zac Purton’s Royal Ascot win on Little Bridge

Eleven years on, Little Bridge remains the most recent Hong Kong-trained horse to win at Royal Ascot.

That will change on Saturday if Ryan Moore is successful aboard Wellington in the Group One Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes (1,200m).

However, back in 2012, it was then 29-year-old Zac Purton who did Hong Kong proud by riding Danny Shum Chap-shing-trained sprinter Little Bridge to victory in the Group One King’s Stand Stakes (1,000m) on the opening day of the royal meeting.

Two and half years before that triumph, Purton recalls Little Bridge catching his eye at Sha Tin trackwork only one week after the New Zealand-bred horse had landed in Hong Kong.

“He just stood out. I liked the look of him. He had a presence, so I spoke to trainer Danny Shum about riding him, and he threw me on him,” said the five-time Hong Kong champion jockey.

From that point, their relationship flourished, with Purton aboard Little Bridge for his first gallops, first barrier trials and victories in his first five races.

While successful around a bend four times in Hong Kong, Purton admits Little Bridge “was, by far, a better horse up the straight” and, therefore, an ideal contender for the King’s Stand Stakes.

Ideal Little Bridge proved to be, and Purton – who was riding in the United Kingdom for the first time – recalls watching Frankel win the Group One Queen Anne Stakes (1,600m) shortly before their own race.

Upon seeing Frankel charge straight up the middle of the track, Purton decided he would follow suit and guide Little Bridge up the centre of the course.

“Frankel was in race one that day. He went straight up the middle of the track – basically, where we were drawn for our race – and he won. I came out and said to Danny and the owners, ‘change of plan, Frankel went up the middle, I’m going to go up the middle’,” Purton said.

“Frankel, at that time, was the best horse in the world. I thought the best horse in the world went up that strip of the track and was successful, so I’d follow his lead.”

Ultimately, Purton’s plan paid off, but he reveals how lucky he was to have even come out of the gates and the advice from Frankie Dettori that ensured he did.

Before the race, a galloper played up in the gates, and the barrier attendants removed him to undergo a veterinary check.

Confident it would take some time to determine whether the sprinter would run – as was the case in the countries Purton had ridden – the Australian jockey allowed his concentration to drop for a few seconds.

“It was my first time in the UK, and I didn’t know they did things differently. When it was announced the horse was going to be vetted, I basically took my hands off the reins and relaxed a bit,” Purton said.

“Just as they were bringing the horse out of the stall, Frankie, who was drawn next to me, said, ‘you’d better get ready. As soon as this horse is out, we’re going to jump’. Frankie was right. As soon as the horse was out, the gates opened, and they were off.

“If Frankie hadn’t said that to me, I’d have been sitting there with no reins in my hands, not even concentrating, and possibly have fallen off the back of the horse as he jumped.

“It was because of Frankie giving me the heads-up that I was ready. We went on to win the race, so I owe Frankie.”

Dettori, riding at Royal Ascot for the last time this week, recalls that moment in the gates.

“I was next to Zac in the stalls. It can happen to anyone. On that occasion, it was Zac. I just tried to help him, and we got the job done,” Dettori said.

While Purton will watch Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes from afar as he prepares for Sunday’s Sha Tin meeting, Dettori will ride Kinross for Hong Kong owner Marc Chan.

In Dettori’s final Group One appearance at the royal meeting, you can almost guarantee he will not offer any words of advice to Wellington’s jockey, Ryan Moore.

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