Purton has put together an incredible run of form lately with 14 wins from the last three race meetings, including two stunning six-timers. Moreira, meanwhile, has been ramping up the ante ahead of an anticipated assault on the championship next term with a couple of four-timers, gathering a haul of 11 wins from the last three fixtures.
The Australian surpassed the Brazilian’s single season prize money record at the weekend, and, on Wednesday (5 June) night at Happy Valley, he will attempt to maintain his momentum towards Moreira’s lofty all-time high of 170 wins in a Hong Kong campaign.
“I’ve had a good season and hopefully I can keep the show rolling on,” the champion jockey said.
With 140 wins on the board, Purton needs 30 more from the final 11 fixtures to match Moreira’s high.
Continuing to ride at the 48% win strike rate of his last three meetings is unlikely and Purton knows it. With 104 races remaining, matching Moreira’s 170 would require a 28.8% strike rate: his season-long strike rate stands at 23.9%.
“From where I am at the moment, getting to Joao’s record is a very tall mountain to climb,” he said. “But if I continue to get on the right horses and get the support, I’ll give it a go and see how close I can get to it”
Purton is riding the crest of a towering wave. He is already four wins above his personal best tally as he rolls towards collecting a third championship; and just five more victories will see him become the second jockey in history behind Douglas Whyte to notch 1000 wins in Hong Kong.
But he is realistic about what it will take to snatch the record from Moreira who reset the Hong Kong benchmark in three phenomenal championship-winning seasons, smashing well beyond the century mark each time: prior to Moreira’s arrival, Whyte’s peak mark of 114 wins had seemed a barely reachable haul.
“If I was going like I am now six or eight weeks ago the 170 might be achievable but I’m probably leaving my run too late,” Purton said. “I was just focused on the prize money record, that’s all I was after because I thought I couldn't beat his win record - I can't ride as light as his weight, of course. But the prize money record I thought was achievable, so I was chasing that - I actually got to that quicker than I thought I would.”
Riding Luck in the finale
Purton has a full book of eight rides at the midweek fixture and will partner Green Luck (122lb) in the finale, the Class 2 Wong Nai Chung Gap Handicap (1800m).
The rider has partnered the Caspar Fownes-trained four-year-old to each of his two wins, both over 1650m at Happy Valley and the latter at the gelding’s most recent start.
“I think the distance is fine,” Purton said. “It was a good effort (last time), he was probably a bit disappointing so Caspar gave him a bit of a break and the freshen-up has done him good. He’s always shown he’s got the ability there, it was just more of a mental thing with him; the freshen-up sparked him back up and it was the best performance that he’s put in; he attacked the line, I thought, in pretty good fashion.”
Green Luck faces another last start victor in the Tony Cruz-trained Brave Legend (120lb). His rider, Vincent Ho, is one of the 19 vying for the slim pickings that have been falling outside of the big two’s sweep.
“I hope Brave Legend can keep his form from his last race. I rode him three runs back and he ran second but then Karis (Teetan) won two on him,” he said.
“He had a break between his last two wins and he’s come back looking good in his action. We have a good draw (2) but he’s always a bit lazy so hopefully from that gate we won't be too far back.”
Ho’s improvement plan
Ho has had it better than most of his jockeys’ room rivals of late. The Hong Kong Jockey Club Apprentice School graduate is riding higher than ever before at fourth position in the premiership with a career best 48 wins on the board. He has notched six wins since 1 May, including a couple of doubles.
“It’s always been tough in Hong Kong but you just hope you can pick up some good rides and when you’re on a horse that can win, you have to make it count,” he said.
“Zac and Joao get all the best rides so it’s definitely not easy but I just do my best and get the best possible result for my horses. Winners are difficult because the horses they are on are pretty good, so it’s difficult to compete with them.”
Ho is well-known around Sha Tin for his determination to improve. Last season he went to Britain and made his first ride a winner, thanks to the Mark Johnston-trained X Rated. He plans to return to the North Yorkshire handler during Hong Kong’s off-season.
“I’ll go to Mark Johnston again,” he said. “I need to plan my time because I only have four weeks so that’s not much time to learn, especially as it’s hard to get rides there.
“I went there last season and since I’ve come back I’ve shown that I’ve improved and I’ve made the effort to make that experience count. I just try to learn as much as possible and pick up new things to do with horsemanship and riding, which helps.”
Ho looks set to nail a second consecutive Tony Cruz Award as the season’s leading ‘home grown’ jockey. But he is not content with that accolade.
“The season could have been better: it’s never good enough,” he said. “I still have lots of things to improve, that’s why I’m going to the UK again. When most people are taking a break, I take the opportunity to try to improve myself.”
Wednesday’s eight-race card starts at 7.15pm with the Class 3 High West Handicap (2200m).