Michael Lee – Singapore Turf Club
Hong Kong champion jockey Zac Purton may have a knack of visiting the winner’s circle when he heads overseas, but he said he must first of all have the horse to do the job.
The list is endless: Frist off was England where he landed the 2012 Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) with Little Bridge for Danny Shum at Royal Ascot. Two years later, on another hit-and-run mission, he won one of the four Grand Slam races in his native Australia, the 2014 Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) aboard Japan’s Admire Rakti.
Then came Japan the next year with the Paul O’Sullivan-trained Aerovelocity in the Grade 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m), not to mention his earlier successful foray in the Land of the Rising Sun when he claimed the World Super Jockey Series title in 2012.
And of course, his love story with Singapore, which began in 2013 when he won the now-defunct Group 1 Singapore Airlines International Cup (2000m) aboard the John Moore-trained Military Attack. He has returned to the Lion City every year since, except during the years the invitational races were discontinued (2016-2017), landing he Group 1 KrisFlyer International Sprint (1200m) with Aerovelocity in 2015, the Group 1 Kranji Mile (1600m) with Southern Legend last year as well as the Group 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m) with the Lee Freedman-trained Mr Clint as a bonus.
The only time Purton did not bring silverware home was in 2014, but he still won on Kate’s Keeper for trainer Stephen Gray, for whom he will this year ride likely favourite Lim’s Cruiser in the $800,000 Group 1 Lion City Cup (1200m).
The 36-year-old jockey, who is fast approaching the tonne milestone in Hong Kong where he is well clear in his third title chase, is again invited for one main assignment, the $1.5 million Group 1 Kranji Mile (1600m) with the same horse he won it last year, the Caspar Fownes-trained Southern Legend.
Besides Lim’s Cruiser, he has also picked up a third ride in the third Group 1 event on that Triple S night – Singapore Super Saturday – Lim’s Lightning in the $800,000 Singapore Guineas (1600m), but he took no other rides in the other supporting races.
Purton would obviously love nothing less than stretch out that overseas purple patch, especially in Singapore, which has clearly emerged as the happiest hunting ground among his foreign raids.
But he humbly said his task is made easier when he gets to sit on the right horse.
“I’m lucky I came with the right horse, and Hong Kong horses have also been stronger than the Singapore horses,” he said, a couple of hours before he boarded his Singapore-bound flight at the Hong Kong International airport.
“I’ve always liked Singapore. I feel comfortable there, it’s relaxed, I always have a great time there.
“I also get to meet a lot of familiar faces, both trainers and jockeys, but I’m not here for a holiday either, the races remain the main focus.”
For a change, Purton is slightly more confident about one of his “undercard” rides rather than the big one.
“I’m keeping it short and sweet this year, I’m focusing on only the three Group 1 races. I think Lim’s Cruiser might be my best chance,” he said.
“He’s trying to win the Lion City Cup again. I remember I watched him win that race last year – it was a phenomenal run as he picked his way through the field and closed off.
“At his last start (Group 3 Rocket Man Sprint), he carried some weight and ran wide (second to Bold Thruster). He’s come through that run and he’s got a reasonable gate (five).”
Southern Legend still appeals as a winning chance in the Kranji Mile, even if his last start in the Group 1 Dubai Turf (1800m) in March has left Purton scratching his head a little.
After momentarily leading from the inside alley as is his customary style, he was shuffled back to sixth on the fence as other contenders galloped past. He tried to rally again at the 300m, but stayed one-paced when Japanese wonder mare Almond Eye came jogging by, to finish sixth.
“He had no reason to run that way in Dubai. He had no excuse,” he said.
“He had a nice gate, had a nice run through. He just didn’t fire, maybe the environment didn’t suit him.
“He seems to have come back in good form after a freshen-up. I trialled him on the All-Weather before he left for Singapore.
“He’s never a brilliant worker, though, he just goes through the motions. He’s raced on this track (Kranji) before, we’re taking the visors off and going back to basics.”
Purton admitted that the level of confidence was not as high as last year’s, not helped by the presence of a horse who is already home going with vox populi – fellow Hongkonger Singapore Sling, a horse he knows well for having beaten him a few times as the rider of champion miler Beauty Generation.
“We’re not coming out as confident as last year,” he said.
“Singapore Sling has been running well, finishing just behind Beauty Generation at his last start. He’s clearly the horse to beat this year.
“My horse has drawn well in two, but I haven’t chatted with Caspar about how he wants to run him. I don’t know the local horses in any depth, but my horse is an on-pace runner and I would say I would ride him positive.”
On his third ride aboard longshot Lim’s Lightning in the $800,000 Group 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m), Purton said he would just follow trainer Steven Burridge’s instructions.
“I don’t know much about the third ride. Hopefully, he runs a good race,” said Purton.
“It’s good to be back to a place I really enjoy, and let’s hope I can ride at least one winner.”
Burridge for one is hoping having a jockey of Purton’s calibre on the son of Lope De Vega can spark up a bit of magic, even if he realises it still remains a tall order.
On some occasions Lim’s Lightning didn’t have much luck, but he battled at his first test over 1400m in the second Leg of the Singapore Three-Year-Old Challenge, the Group 2 Singapore Three-Year-Old Classic on May 3, casting even stronger doubts on his stamina for a mile.
“I was happy with Lim’s Lightning’s gallop on Wednesday,” said the Australian trainer.
“I was overall disappointed with his run in the 1400m Leg, but he also overraced. He hasn’t had much luck at his other races either.
“He’ll have no gear in the Guineas, we’re taking the pacifiers off him. Hopefully, he won’t be so keen.
“Otherwise, he’s fit and well. Win lose or draw, he may carry on racing because he’s such an athletic and energetic horse.
“He does a bit too much, he over travels, but (assistant-trainer) Richard Lim, who rides him all the time, has done a good job with him.
“We’re lucky to have Zac Purton on him this Saturday. The mile is a question mark, but you never know.”