Hong Kong’s reigning champion jockey Zac Purton savoured a Group One double at Randwick on Saturday, taking out the Canterbury Stakes (1,300m) aboard Artorius before snaring the Randwick Guineas (1,600m) with Communist 40 minutes later.
Riding in Australia for the first time since 2018 after Hong Kong’s jockeys were grounded throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Purton’s class was there for all to see as he first took down James McDonald and hot favourite Imperatriz aboard $9.50 chance Artorius before completing his feature clean-sweep on $16 outsider Communist.
There’s been persistent talk about Purton’s future in the past year or so and the 40-year-old’s flying trip to Australia gained momentum when he was suspended last month – a ban that will see him miss Sunday’s Sha Tin meeting and the Happy Valley fixture on Wednesday.
While criticising chief steward’s Marc van Gestel’s “new standard” following his suspension, Purton said he was keen to “test the waters [in Australia], see how it feels, and maybe that’s where I’ll end up”.
“It’s good to be home and obviously even better to get a couple of winners, so we’ll party tonight,” Purton told Australia’s Channel 7.
“They didn’t want to let me ride [in Hong Kong], so maybe it’s worked in my favour. I can play golf tomorrow, have a long lunch and I’ll get back on the plane tomorrow night and go home.
“We haven’t been to Sydney for about six years, so it’s really nice to be back here. It’s good to see family, good to see friends.
“It’s great that the city has put on a show for me today. Everyone has been warm and welcoming, all the jockeys in the room have been great. I’ve had a really good time, so it makes me feel loved.”
You could not wipe the smile off the star Australian’s face after he produced the perfect ride aboard Artorius for Anthony and Sam Freedman, with Purton weaving the speedster through traffic from behind midfield before the enigmatic galloper exploded late to grab Imperatriz in the final strides.
“I just had to wait a little bit for the right opportunity and I was hoping to get going a little bit earlier but … the last 150m he launched, he just jumped out of the ground,” Purton told Sky Racing. “He comes with a little bit of baggage but he’s obviously very talented.”
Purton kept it in the family with victory aboard Michael Freedman-trained three-year-old Communist and suggested after the race he’ll be open to making further trips to Australia as Sydney’s lucrative Autumn carnival continues.
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“I’m not booked for anything else going forward, so I’m available,” he said.
Purton was lucky to stay in the saddle in the final event on the Randwick programme, with his mount Tycoon Evie stumbling badly after copping severe interference in the final stages.
Purton, who is a runaway leader in the Hong Kong premiership with 101 victories, returns to the saddle at Sha Tin next weekend.
Meanwhile, the Caspar Fownes-trained Senor Toba finished a one-paced eighth in Saturday night’s Group Two Dubai City Of Gold (2,410m) at Meydan.
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