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Zac Purton: The Hong Kong Derby is the most important race of the year

Purton gives us the lowdown on the Derby and his upcoming rides

Jockey Zac Purton is a phenomenon when it comes to riding in Hong Kong and he got the better of Joao ‘Magic Man’ Moreira in a titanic battle to be champion rider last season.

This weekend he rides Dark Dream as he bids to down hot favourite Waikuku in the prestigious BMW Hong Kong Derby at Sha Tin on Sunday.

We spoke to Purton about his chances of victory, race riding in Hong Kong as well as getting the latest on Beauty Generation, who is officially rated the best horse in the world.

What was it like to be involved in the title battle with Joao Moreira last season?

It was fantastic. Any competition in any sport is good, especially racing, and I know towards the latter part of the season there was a lot of interest in how our battle was unfolding. To be a part of it was brilliant and the meeting a couple of weeks before the end of the season where we went winner-for-winner right through the card was a special and memorable day. Being able to come out on top after such a battle made it especially sweet.

Did you and Joao speak to each other during that time or were you enemies for that period?

We were fine. We sit next to each other at Sha Tin every Sunday and chat to each other through the day as we go along. There was no bitterness or animosity between us just a good, strong rivalry and we really enjoyed it while giving it every we had. That’s how it should be.

You are the ‘go-to’ jockey for punters betting on racing in Hong Kong due to your excellent record. Do you enjoy that pressure and expectation?

I do. It’s a position every jockey wants to be in to be able to get the opportunities to ride horses with chances in races, especially the big races. I enjoy it and I don’t think of the pressure involved. I keep things pretty simple, I analyse every race and then form a game plan which I then go out and try to execute.

Sha Tin is not an easy course to ride. What do you need to excel around the track?

You start in front of the stands for the Derby so it’s about keeping the horses as calm and relaxed as possible; you don’t want them to boil over before the race even starts. It’s very important to get a good start and a clean break. Position is key and the race changes a lot with half a mile to go, so you need to be following the right horses to make your challenge.

Zac Purton

Zac Purton in action at Sha Tin

Are you able to explain to us the importance of the Hong Kong Derby to people in the country?

Locally for owners in Hong Kong this is our Blue Riband race. It’s the race they all want to win and the race they all dream about winning. It’s the most important race every year. At the start of each season all anyone wants to talk about is the Derby.

You ride Dark Dream in the Hong Kong Derby on Sunday. How do you think he will get on?

He’s had a faultless preparation. He’s acquitted himself well in every race he’s run in Hong Kong and he’s won over the course and distance. It was a wet track that day and that was his best performance out here. The Classic Mile didn’t work out for him from a wide draw and being down in trip and then it was a slowly run race last time which didn’t help. We’ve had a little rain this week and I’m hoping it sticks around for the race as if he’s going to be a leading contender for this race then he’s going to need the dig in the track. A firm track might pull him up a bit.

Waikuku is the buzz horse for the Hong Kong Derby. Do you think he is the one to beat?

On his first start here he was beaten a nose after a bad trip and he’s not stopped winning since. He was very impressive on his last start under a big weight in a good time. He looks the one to beat although he has been drawn widest of all in barrier 14. That gives the rest of us a little bit more of a chance but he’s still going to be very hard to beat.

Ryan Moore, Oisin Murphy and Hugh Bowman are jetting in to ride in the Hong Kong Derby. Do you enjoy taking on the top international riders?

I do. I’ve been riding against all these boys for a number of years now and I enjoy meeting up with them and competing with them in the big races. I learn a lot from them every time and I study what they do and what makes them effective. It’s great to have jockeys of that calibre here and adds a greater dynamic to the race.

Purton winning at Sha Tin in 2016

Outside Dark Dream, who are you most looking forward to riding at the weekend?

My rides are competitive but I don’t think there’s anything that’s a standout. I’ve drawn some awful barriers and I’m going to need some luck to get home in front. I’m going to need to be at my best to get any winners.

You ride Beauty Generation, who is rated the best horse in the world. What is he like to be associated with?

He seems to be getting better and better. Dropping him back to the mile has been the turning point in the horse’s career. He’s bred to stay a little bit further so he’s using that stamina he’s got over a mile and his high cruising speed to run them into the ground. His biggest asset is a fast-run race as the faster they go the better he is because he travels so kindly. He glides across the ground and the other horses trying to compete with him fall in a whole coming around the corner and then he kicks and finds again. The horses back in the field who are spotting him seven or eight lengths can’t catch him either because he doesn’t stop. He’s a unique horse and he’s a pleasure to ride.

And, finally, is there any chance we will see Beauty Generation at Royal Ascot this year?

No. Royal Ascot is not on the table for the owners and they’d much prefer to go to Japan for the Yasuda Kinen in June. That’s been spoken about if he’s able to win his next two starts at the beginning and end of April.