It seems a foregone conclusion that by late Sunday afternoon Zac Purton will stand alone as the premier jockey in the history of the Hong Kong International Races, but the champion Australian certainly isn’t counting his chickens just yet.
Purton sits equal with Gerald Mosse with eight HKIR winners and enters Sunday’s showcase with a bumper book of rides that will likely see him start favourite in three of the four features.
And while many jockeys are quick to offer a vanilla response in the shadows of such a big day, that’s never been Purton’s style and he admits he’s well aware that history awaits should things go to plan this weekend.
“It would be nice to win all four,” he said. “I know of the record, of course. I am the type of person who knows what the records are and what needs to be done and those types of things, because they motivate me and give me goals.
“I’ve got nice enough rides to hopefully be able to take the lead on my own, but they’re all hard races to win.
“You need the right horse to turn up on the day in the right form with the right track conditions, tempo and all those sorts of things, so I definitely don’t go there thinking the job is done. I have to go there needing to do the job and that’s how I’m going to approach it.”
Purton has twice ridden a pair of Group One winners on international day and says he prides himself on delivering when it matters most.
To give an indication of just how prolific Purton has been on the jurisdiction’s biggest day, his eight winners have come from just 29 rides compared to Mosse’s 63, while the Australian has ridden at least one top-flight winner at six of the last seven international days.
“It’s our marquee meeting and it’s the meeting I certainly focus on the most and try and gather the right rides to be successful. My record suggests I’ve been fortunate in doing so,” he said.
“I know the eyes of the world are on us and I’m proud to support Hong Kong and all the owners here that give me support, hopefully I can give some joy back to them.”
Purton partners Aethero (Sprint), Beauty Generation (Mile), Glorious Forever (Cup) and
Exultant (Vase) on Sunday – with his decision to strip down to 117 pounds leaving no uncertainty about what he thinks of Aethero.
“It’s the first time in my 12-and-a-half years in Hong Kong that I can remember riding this weight so obviously I think he could be a special horse and he could be worth it. Hopefully that’s the case,” he said.
Beauty Generation is chasing a third consecutive Hong Kong Mile win but whether he’s got it in him after a recent dip in form is perhaps the most intriguing question ahead of Sunday.
“We went into the race last year confident that we were going to win it, we’re coming into this race hopeful that he can bounce back to his best,” Purton said.
Glorious Forever heads into his Cup defence on the back of some uninspiring form and Purton is not sure what to expect from the five-year-old when he climbs aboard for the first time in over a year.
“There’s definitely two of him, one’s pretty good and one’s pretty ordinary. The ordinary one turned up last time so we’re hoping the good one turns up this time,” he said.
Reigning Vase champ Exultant rounds out Purton’s glittering quartet and the jockey has no doubt what he is going to get from the reliable stayer, who has barely putting a foot wrong in the last year: “He doesn’t give up, he just keeps galloping – I think that’s his biggest asset.”
Trainer hopes Mars can honour admirable Kondo
Japanese trainer Yasuo Tomomichi hopes Hong Kong Mile aspirant Admire Mars can honour the memory of leviathan owner Riichi Kondo in Sunday’s feature.
Kondo, who had all the horses with the “Admire” moniker, won 13 Group Ones in Japan but also travelled abroad, claiming the 2007 Dubai Duty Free with Admire Moon and the 2014 Caulfield Cup with Admire Rakti.
Tomomichi said Kondo, who died last month, relished the chance to travel his horses.
“Mr Kondo really loved Hong Kong. He travelled here for New Year’s Eve all the time so when he had Admire Mars, a horse good enough to come, he was really keen for him to come here, it was one of the reasons we came over here,” the trainer said. “It would be so great to be able to win the race in his honour.”
Zac Purton, who famously rode Admire Rakti to victory in the Caulfield Cup, also paid his respects.
“He was a colourful character and he’s a huge loss to the industry,” he said.
The three-year-old Admire Mars comes into Sunday’s race with five wins – including two at Group One level – from eight starts.
The stable knows what it takes to win a Hong Kong Mile – Vivlos finished second to Beauty Generation last year – and they are confident their colt will acquit himself well.
“Admire Mars has travelled very well so he will produce the results for us like the others have in the past,” Tomomichi said.
“He was in very good condition when he went off to Hong Kong and I was getting reports that he was doing very well. I saw him [on Wednesday] for the first time in a week and he looked to be doing quite well, he looked to be relaxing. I thought he was maybe a little too relaxed so we worked him quite hard to get him focused on race day.
“He has done very well early on, I think he will continue to improve, we look forward to next year with him.”
Star Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon takes the ride and Tomomichi will leave the tactics up to him.
“Soumillon is one of the best jockeys in the world and he has experience here in Hong Kong so we thought he’d be a good match for our horse,” he said. “As for tactics, ultimately we will probably leave it to Soumillon and his experience to help guide us through the process.”