In a season finale soaked with drama and history, Zac Purton, Frankie Lor and Matthew Chadwick have taken the top individual honours as the 2021/2022 Hong Kong racing season ended in spectacular fashion at Sha Tin on Saturday.
With a fifth jockeys’ championship, Purton closed a turbulent season triumphantly with a quartet, having missed eight meetings after a fall in mid-December and then erasing an 18-win deficit to arch-rival Joao Moreira to ultimately prevail 136-132.
Locked on 132 wins with Moreira heading into the 88th and final meeting of the season, Purton held the narrowest of advantages because the Brazilian’s tally contained two dead-heats compared to the Australian’s one dead-heat.
Fittingly, and linking each of Hong Kong’s three most recent champion jockeys, Purton put the championship beyond Moreira’s reach by sealing a treble aboard Turin Redsun in the Class 1 Hong Kong Racehorse Owners Association Trophy Handicap (1600m) for 13-time champion jockey Douglas Whyte – defeating Moreira’s Money Catcher by a short head.
In a tussle across a season featuring six lead changes between two jockeys who have dominated Hong Kong racing for nine successive seasons, it was appropriate that the feature race of the day would ultimately decide the championship in a photo-finish.
The significance of Whyte’s role was not lost on Purton, who previously snared championship honours in 2013/14, 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20, having ended Whyte’s imperious reign with his first title nine seasons ago.
“I said a couple of weeks ago how ironic it would be if I was to win on this horse of Douglas’ (Turin Redsun) and to seal the championship after everything I had been through with Douglas – it’s much nicer being his friend than his foe,” Purton said.
“Every title is special in their own way. I want to pay respect to Joao as well. It’s been a really difficult season and a difficult last three years for all of us here in Hong Kong through all of the COVID lockdowns, having to home-school the kids. We’ve both had our health issues, it’s been really tough.
“We both deserved to win it. It’s really tough, only one person can (win). I think we both deserve it. It’s energy-sapping. We’re both right at the end of our tethers, so it’s nice that we can close it today and both go on holiday and come back and do it again next season.”
Purton initially seized the advantage in the rollercoaster tussle with Moreira when Turquoise Alpha gave departing trainer Paul O’Sullivan the perfect exit from Hong Kong with success in the Class 4 Solar Hei Hei Handicap (1800m).
Purton’s win left O’Sullivan bristling with emotion after slotting his 517th Hong Kong winner after moving to Sha Tin as an 11-time New Zealand Champion Trainer in 2004.
“It’s great to win a race with Zac on the last day. He knows the horse pretty well and he’s just to come with one run and he certainly did it on the right day,” O’Sullivan, 62, said.
Moreira’s task become even more challenging when Purton extended the gap with Never Too Soon’s win in the Class 3 All You Wish Handicap (1400m), giving David Hall a double and leaving Moreira with the mountainous assignment of riding three winners from the last four races to retain the title.
Stalking Moreira atop Money Catcher, Purton coolly drove Turin Redsun to a short head margin to snuff out Moreira’s bid before the two great riders shared a warm conversation after the race. Turin Redsun earned a High Achievement Bonus of HK$1 million for the win.
Zac Purton seals the Jockey Championship with Lucky Sweynesse, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Purton’s coronation was completed by Lucky Sweynesse’s emphatic victory in the Class 2 Joy And Fun Handicap (1200m) for Manfred Man. Still only three, Lucky Sweynesse dominated older rivals to underscore his talent a day after being feted as Hong Kong’s Champion Griffin.
Purton’s triumph came as Frankie Lor completed the swiftest ascent by a home-grown trainer to the trainers’ championship in decades, finishing the season with 90 wins – six more than his former mentor and 11-time champion John Size – in only his fifth season.
“I need to thank the Jockey Club first, I joined the club in 1981 and have been there for 41 years, and the owners have been really supportive,” Lor, 56, said. “My stable team in Conghua and Hong Kong, they both work really hard for me, and also my family – my son also does a lot of work for me.
“And I need to say a big thank you to my boss Mr Size. At this moment, I have only had a trainers' licence for five years, and to get the championship this season, I'm really happy because I'm a local trainer and it means the local trainers can also get the championship.”
Matthew Chadwick ended Vincent Ho’s three-season reign as winner of the Tony Cruz Award for the most successful home-grown jockey by finishing the campaign with 55 wins – five more than Ho and Derek Leung.
“It’s definitely a good goal to have, so I’m happy to take it home this year,” Chadwick, 32, said. “It’s a lovely achievement to see and it’s after (named) after the old boss (Chadwick was apprenticed to Cruz), so it’s definitely recognition of what he’s done and it’s great to take a step forward in that direction.
“I appreciate all the support I’ve had this season and, going forward, hopefully I can get the numbers up higher.”
Derek Leung sealed a fine season when he drove Benno Yung’s Ice Legend to victory in the Class 4 Victory Marvel Handicap (1200m) to notch his 48th victory of the season – a personal best and well clear of his previous high of 39.
Lyle Hewitson and Douglas Whyte combined successfully for the 20th time this season when HK Dragon landed the Class 4 Big Profit Handicap (1400m).
“He came from behind and he upended them, so it was a good effort,” Whyte said after posting his 45th winner of the term.
Luke Ferraris ended the campaign in style with his first Hong Kong double, prevailing for David Hall aboard Melbourne Hall in the Class 5 Mr Award Handicap (1200m) before securing a brace with Singapore Spirit for Tony Cruz in the Class 4 Medic Kingdom Handicap (1400m).
“It taken me some time to ride my first double, but better later than never,” Ferraris, 20, said. “I’m grateful for the support, especially from Mr Cruz. He’s been instrumental in my career in Hong Kong so far.” Hall finished the season with 32 wins.
Luke Currie finished his first Hong Kong stint on a high with success in the Class 5 Miraculous Handicap (1400m) with One Step Ahead for Michael Chang. Injured in a track fall after riding a winner in his first race in Hong Kong, Currie closed the season with nine wins.
Karis Teetan slotted his 73rd win of the season when he combined with Ricky Yiu’s Lucky Eight to land the Class 3 Pingwu Spark Handicap (1200m).
Manfred Man produced the last – and longest-priced – winner of the term when 198/1 shot Encountered upstaged rivals to clinch the Class 3 Sight Winner Handicap (1600m) under Matthew Poon.
A very fitting end to the season with Zac Purton embracing the retiring Paul O'Sullivan after the win of Turquoise Alpha, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Bravo, Frankie Lor!— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) July 16, 2022
A lifelong dream comes true as the 56-year-old celebrates a maiden trainers' championship after 90 wins and HK$125.98 million for owners. 🍾@FCLOR_RACING | #SeasonFinale | #HKracing pic.twitter.com/nqMk35ilW0