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Numbers game spurs Zac Purton: ‘trying to get to 170 will be my aim this season’

The numbers game is what keeps the world’s greatest sportspeople coming back for more, even though their battered bodies would love them to quit and their accumulated assets would enable them to retire.

For Tiger Woods, it is Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships. For Novak Djokovic, it is Rafael Nadal’s 22 grand slam singles titles.

For Zac Purton, it is Joao Moreira’s 170 winners in a Hong Kong season, the record the Brazilian set in 2016-17 and the Australian almost eclipsed two years later.

“I always try and set myself a task or a goal to keep myself motivated. Having won basically everything there is to win here in Hong Kong, I do need something to focus my attention on. Trying to get to 170 will be my aim this season,” Purton said.

It would take a brave punter – perhaps only one with a reckless disregard for money – to bet against Purton achieving his personal objective this term because he is showing more early speed than one of his favourite active horses, California Spangle.

Purton’s current count of 21 winners is four more than his previous best tally after nine meetings of a season. Last term, up to and including the Happy Valley meeting on October 6, Purton rode 17 winners.

At Sha Tin on Sunday, Purton became the first Australian rider since John Kinninmont – a relative of Conghua-based Jockey Club racing control senior manager Damien Kinninmont – to partner seven winners in a day.

Purton has reached the 170 mark in a previous season, but his 2018-19 total comprised 168 victories in Hong Kong, one in Singapore and one in Australia.

With Purton’s chief rival Moreira absent with leave in Brazil until the end of the year – and perhaps never to return to Hong Kong given the Magic Man’s poor physical and psychological condition – the 39-year-old superstar is prohibitive odds to end this term as the city’s champion jockey for a sixth time, hence why he has 170 domestic winners as his target.

“That’s my goal. I’ve got the opportunity in front of me, so let’s try and push for it,” Purton said.

“At the end of the day, it’ll come down to the opportunities I’m given. It’s very hard to ride a single winner here in Hong Kong, so it’s probably unrealistic. But I need a goal, I need something to try and achieve, so that’s what I’m striving for.”

Purton will not want for opportunities at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, with seven handlers keeping him busy throughout the nine-race card.

Purton will ride Savaquin first up for 11-time champion trainer John Size in the main event -the Class Two Man Yui Handicap (1,650m) – because his regular rider, Moreira, is unavailable.

David Hayes and Peter Ho Leung have retained Purton on Handsome Veggie and Wood On Fire, respectively. Purton has usurped Lyle Hewitson aboard Day Day Rich and suspended jockey Dylan Mo Hin-tung aboard Nextmodel, with both gallopers representing Benno Yung Tin-pang’s in-form stable.

Like Mo, Harry Bentley must serve a ban, so Purton has picked up the Briton’s rides on Danny Shum Chap-shing’s Comet Splendido and Harmony N Home. Finally, Purton has taken over from Matthew Chadwick aboard Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s Five Elements and Luke Ferraris aboard Pierre Ng Pang-chi’s Kungfumaster Panda.

You know Purton will be in the right head space at Happy Valley because this is how he told reporters he would spend the night of his Sha Tin seven-timer.

“I’ll be at home. I’ve got to work early tomorrow. I’ve got horses to try and get ready to win races on Wednesday and next weekend. Hong Kong never stops. The show must go on,” said Purton before signing some goggles, posing for some photographs and exiting the racecourse for some refreshments.

Purton is correct. The show must go on. Long may he be a part of it because he is its headline act.

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