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  • Writer's pictureAlan Aitken

Purton's first 1,000 came up the hard way

It has only happened twice, so the patterns are unclear and it will always be a small sample, but there's no doubt Zac Purton got his first 1,000 Hong Kong winners the hard way.

That isn't to denigrate the achievement of Douglas Whyte, the first man to pass 1,000 wins in May, 2008 (left), but rather to elevate what Purton has done.

From a distance, their reaching of the milestone has many similarities.

In terms of time, 4,256 days passed between Whyte's first ride in Hong Kong and his 1000th winner. For Purton, there were 4,291 days between those events.

It took Whyte 6,410 rides to notch up his 1000th and Purton reached the mark on Thanks Forever last Saturday at his 6,471st ride.

For the first man to the top of the mountain, the celebrations were slightly more elevated too - the Jockey Club prepared a presentation for Whyte with cake, champagne and a framed presentation involving golden coins. For Purton, there was champagne, and a baseball cap in a slightly lower-key ceremony.

My contention that Purton's was the greater achievement is rooted not in the order of arrival or the level of celebration but in the path each jockey took to the same place.

Whyte was as hard-working and professional a jockey as you'd see and neither he, nor anybody else who ever rides 1,000 winners in Hong Kong, can do it while falling short on work ethic or talent. So that isn't a factor.

But what Whyte did not have to do was to prove himself constantly to the top players in order to attract the kind of support that wins races, championships and records. From the start, Whyte had the backing of three of the top four-ranked trainers of his initital season, 1996-97 - Ivan Allan, John Moore and Tony Cruz, as well as regular top six or seven trainers like Wong Tang-ping and David Oughton. That ensured that Whyte's support was always strong and consistent and the winners rolled in week by week. That led to winning 50 races in a shortened first season when Whyte rode for only half the year - a tremendous success - and that never changed through Whyte's career. Like all jockeys, the Durban Demon had an occasional falling out with a trainer here or there but, by and large, his ability to keep widespread support characterised and underpinned Whyte's long reign.

While Whyte took a limousine, Purton got to the same place taking buses, hitching rides, stowing away and pleading for support from many yards. He still isn't there, in some ways, with influential trainers like John Size and Tony Cruz using Purton only infrequently even these days and his strong partnership this season with John Moore has not, historically, been their reality.

In the table below, you can see the winners ridden by Purton for each trainer since his first season, 2007-08, with the trainers who have won a championship title in that time highlighted in blue and their title-winning years highlighted in red. Only twice - with Dennis Yip in that surprise title win in 2012-13 and Caspar Fownes in 2013-14 - has Purton had a serious partnership with the champion trainer of the season.

His best pairings have been with Paul O'Sullivan, Caspar Fownes, Danny Shum and Dennis Yip, yet there were periods with each of them when Purton still was not the headline jockey or even one of the stable's regulars.

Remarkably, Purton's mounts in his first five years in Hong Kong came mostly from O’Sullivan (286), Ricky Yiu (201), Almond Lee (200), David Ferraris (172), Shum (158) and Andreas Schutz (155) - partnerships with a limited yield, in most cases, and with trainers who, collectively, found their names in the top six for the season only five times during that whole period.

Purton has had long spells on the outer with Moore and Size, without so much as a ride, and has nver been wholly inside th tent with Tony Cruz, perennially one of the the top handlers, even if his last championship is now 14 years ago. Purton was in Hong Kong for six years before he had a winner for the stable.

In a closed shop like Hong Kong, dominated by a narrow group of trainers, that should have been enough to ensure that any jockey struggled to ever win a title, but Purton has managed to plough on through his supply disadvantages and win two of them. He has cobbled together enough backing from a wide variety of yards to miss the first four in the rankings only once, in his debut season, and now reached 1,000 winners in a similar time frame to Whyte, who was always well patronised by the peak yards.

Joao Moreira is fast closing on 800 winners and is probably only 18 months away from passing the 1,000 mark himself - an extraordinary feat, given that he will get there four years faster than either Whyte or Purton - but his will be a different story.

He has always occupied an almost mythical status, with the oversupply of good rides always more of a problem for him than scarcity. He will not arrive at 1,000 Hong Kong wins having worked hard and ridden beautifully but not having to drag himself there by the boostraps and prove his talent over and over again.

That particular story belongs to Purton alone.

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