Zac Pur­ton

Jockey ex­traor­di­naire

Prestige Hong Kong - 40 under 40 - - Contents -

Aus­tralian-born jockey Zac Pur­ton moved to Hong Kong in 2007, mak­ing his­tory in 2014 when he ended the cham­pi­onship reign of Dou­glas Whyte, who’d held the ti­tle for the pre­vi­ous 13 years. His win­ning streak con­tin­ues: Pur­ton won the Hong Kong Derby in 2015 and his Hong Kong Cup win on Time Warp in 2017 made him only the third jockey (af­ter Ger­ald Mosse and Mor­eira) to win all four of the city’s De­cem­ber in­ter­na­tional races.

When we col­lared Pur­ton for a chat, he was prep­ping for an­other race. The adren­a­line rush, the com­pe­ti­tion and the risk — the cham­pion jockey loves it all. His record-break­ing wins have proved to be defin­ing points in his ca­reer, yet he tells us that aside from the ex­tra pub­lic­ity that comes with the job, life hasn’t changed too dras­ti­cally.

“Hong Kong is a great city. You know, I’ve been very lucky here and been given great op­por­tu­ni­ties. Both of my kids were born here. It’s a very vi­brant city and al­ways mov­ing — some­thing’s al­ways hap­pen­ing on and off the track.” he says. “I’ve no­ticed that when I get away in the off sea­son and come back here, I walk back into my apart­ment and I feel like I’m at home. This is the right place for me.”

Still, as he ad­vances in his ca­reer, the pres­sure to main­tain the sta­tus-quo is con­stant. “It’s one thing get­ting to the top but an­other stay­ing there,” he says. “With my main com­peti­tor leav­ing, there’s now a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties for new jock­eys who are here to step up to the plate and chal­lenge me for the po­si­tion I’m in. My job is to try and keep them at bay.”

Like any other ath­lete, he has to main­tain core strength and physique: suc­cess in this busi­ness starts from the in­side, and jock­eys face con­stant pres­sure to stay lean and fit. Pur­ton tells us he’s shifted to­wards a plant-based diet, which has made all the dif­fer­ence. “No more burg­ers, beer, all the good stuff, but you have to make sac­ri­fices.” Aside from spend­ing seven days a week on the track, he com­bines rac­ing with lots of phys­i­cal train­ing. Box­ing, swimming and golf are among his favourites.

He’s al­ways fight­ing fit as com­pe­ti­tion is al­ways around the cor­ner, quite lit­er­ally: Pur­ton is in close prox­im­ity to all 23 of his other com­peti­tors, since they all live in the same build­ing in Kowloon. “Liv­ing with your big­gest ri­vals comes with its own set of chal­lenges as well, mak­ing it hard for emo­tions not to get in the way of bud­ding friend­ships with other jock­eys,” he says. “You need to try and put emo­tion to the side and think about do­ing [what’s right] for you.”

Things be­come cut-throat when the race be­gins, how­ever. “We’re friends, but we’re also en­e­mies as well. I think peo­ple un­der­stand that once we’re in a race and the gates open it’s ev­ery man for him­self. Law of the jun­gle.”

“It’s one thing get­ting to the top but an­other stay­ing there ... I think peo­ple un­der­stand that once we’re in a race and the gates open it’s ev­ery man for him­self”

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