The focus will be on popular jockeys Zac Purton and Joao Moreira early in the new HK season. Photo by HKJC.


“He’s favourite”, “No he is”, Zac Purton v Joao Moreira premiership battle set to be one for the ages

By Michael Cox  @KemblaCoxy




For two supreme competitors that have every right to carry themselves with the air of the jockey room “alpha”, Zac Purton and Joao Moreira sure love the underdog tag.

So when asked “who should be favourite for the jockeys’ championship this season?”, it was no surprise that the great rivals disagreed.

“Zac is the hot favourite, of course he is, he has so many good horses in his hands.” – Joao Moreira


“I think Joao should be favourite, he has the support of the leading trainer, a lot of other trainers and he can ride much lighter than I can ride – therefore he gets more opportunities.” – Zac Purton

Between them they have won the last six championships – three apiece – and the last time they rode a full season each in 2018-19 the pair won one out of every three races. So why does it seem they are obsessed with avoiding the favouritism tag?

Perhaps it is because both jockeys have come from nowhere in a racing sense – Purton from out beyond Coffs Harbour, Moreira from the backblocks of Curitiba. They have both been driven by those relatively disadvantaged backgrounds, especially during their formative years. So maybe now that the “I’ll prove you all wrong” drive has got them this far, and they’ve climbed to the top of the tree, they aren’t about to let that underdog motivator go.

Still, there is a lot of rationale behind each of their theories on why the other should be expected to win – and a betting market surely couldn’t have them far apart.

While Purton came up just two wins short of Moreira’s all-time record last season, when riding weight is considered the Australian’s effort should be recognised as the greatest season of all time. Purton won just two races with 119 pounds and 12 at 120, while Moreira can ride at 115 pounds – giving him the opportunity to ride essentially any horse in a race.

But on the measure of support, it isn’t as simple as weight, with Purton gaining a depth and diversity of support over the past three seasons. When Moreira ripped through the 2015-16 season, more than doubling the runner-up Purton’s win total, it seemed to spark a re-think in strategy from the Australian. His diet improved, as did his durability, but most of all his relationships with owners and trainers changed.

It was as though Purton conceded he couldn’t beat Moreira on the win tally, but he could perhaps win bigger races and thus more prizemoney. He aligned himself with the two biggest owners in Hong Kong racing – the Kwok horses (with the Beauty moniker) and the Sius – and began dominating the group 1s.

Zac Purton’s association with the Kwok family led to becoming the regular rider of Hong Kong Horse of the Year Beauty Generation. Photo by HKJC.


Those horses took Purton into the biggest stables – John Size, John Moore and Tony Cruz – trainers that had been reluctant to put the then-raw talent on during his formative years at Sha Tin.

Because Purton had been ignored by those top yards, he had formed bedrock of backing from the Chinese trainers – something he lent on when he eroded Moreira’s support in the epic 2018-19 season.

Moreira’s failed early season dalliance with Japan last term, and his return as stable rider for John Size, meant last season was left to a battle between Purton and the record books.

Joao Moreira celebrates following another win for John Size. Photo by HKJC.


Now the Magic Man returns as a freelance rider and he has the best of both worlds; we can only assume he gets first pick of Size’s rides, but can now start to work the room and rekindle relationships with other trainers.

There was one thing Purton and Moreira could agree on and that was that this season won’t be one-sided – but it might not be a two-man war either, with 13 freelance jockeys and a possible star in Blake Shinn arriving.

“One thing I am sure about is that this year, he is going to have a lot more competition and not just from me,” Moreira said.  “He won’t get it as easy as he got it last season.”

“The jockeys here are hungry, they have arrived early and are working hard. There’s Blake Shinn and myself coming back as a freelance jockey so there are new options. It is becoming very clear that this season will be a real competition.”

“Those new jockeys are giving the trainers options and I am just one of those options.”

Shinn and South African young gun Lyle Hewitson are the only two new faces, but Aldo Domeyer gained significant traction late last term, and others like Aberto Sanna – who was one of the earliest to return to trackwork – will be hungry to bounce back after poor returns.

In some ways Moreira’s changing status from stable retained to freelance makes him a new face, and one that is full of energy. Those keeping an eye on pre-season trackwork records will have noted that Moreira returned on August 11, a full three weeks before the season opener, and has been riding nearly ten horses per morning.

“I’m just trying to ride as many horses as possible, for as many different trainers, to make sure I have options,” Moreira said.

Purton, too, can sense the growing number of challengers, particularly from the other 11 freelance jockeys.

“The start of the season is always interesting but I think more so this season because there are more western jockeys than there have been at the start of other seasons,” he said.

“That makes it harder, not just for me, but for local jockeys and everyone. There is more depth in the roster.” – Zac Purton

“Whenever a new jockey comes to town the owners and trainers can be in a rush to put them on because they are a little bit tired of putting jockeys on that they have been putting on.”

“They will get their chances and opportunities and until we get rolling we won’t know how things are going to play out.”




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