By: Peter Monaco
I’m lucky to be friends with a very patient and driven young man, named Zac Purton. Zac is an Australian jockey, and an International superstar, who’s been ruling the roost in Hong Kong racing since 2007, where horse racing is the number one sport in the land.
When I first interviewed Zac a year ago, I was very impressed at his matter-of-fact and concise style of speaking, his drive, ambition and his success.
Zac Purton has come a long way since learning to ride horses as a 14-year-old on a beach in Australia while trying to avoid school. He’s only one of two jockeys that has over 900 career wins in Hong Kong, he’s secured two riding titles and is easily well on his way to a third.
Recently, Zac has gotten some major attention while piloting an unbeaten horse named Beauty Generation. He won effortlessly aboard this fellow on Feb.17 in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup and Beauty Generation has seven wins from seven races, including six Group 1 wins. He’s also Hong Kong’s equally highest rated horse of all time. This happens to be one special mount for Zac and he loves this horse.
Zac has an uncanny ability to put horses where they need to be positioned early in a race and has incredible judgment on when to move in the stretch. You can tell the man is extremely comfortable in the saddle and the horses sense the confidence and run well for him.
It’s safe to say that Zac Purton is seeing the ball pretty well these days.
It was slightly ironic, that on the particular day we picked to start our interview, Mr. Purton decided to win six races, run second once, as well as a third place finish in his day of riding at Sha Tin Racecourse so he could give me “something to write about.”
P.M.: “You’ve been a force to be reckoned with in Hong Kong for quite some time and it’s an odd year when you don’t take down the riding title. But, you’ve really been in the zone lately. Do you think that all your hard work, experience and dedication are now paying off in spades or did you get some new vitamins?”
Zac: I’m no different than any other jockey. We all need the right horses to ride and now I’m getting those opportunities. I’ve drawn a few decent gates as well, which has helped save a little energy to be used when needed. It’s the culmination of many years of hard work, good relationships, a healthy diet and an exercise regime that keeps me focused and able to execute on racing days. I’m never happy with what I’ve been able to do. I always want to do better.
P.M.: “Beauty Generation is a hell of a horse and I know for a fact you both know and like each other very much. How do you think this horse would stack up against International competition? And if he were to leave Hong Kong, would you travel with him?
Zac: “Of course I’d travel with him! He’d stack up well against anyone and be very competitive anywhere in the world in any race over a mile. Beauty Generation is a machine. He knows he’s pretty good now and quite cheeky in the stable in the mornings. During the race, he’s a dream to ride. I just let him bowl along, break their hearts and put the sword to them.”
P.M. Would you ever consider coming to the States to ride?
Zac: “I’ve always wanted to ride in the U.S. but I’ve never had the opportunity. Hopefully, one day it presents itself.”
We will take that as a Yes!
P.M.: ” You had six winners for the first time in your life last Sunday but I couldn’t help but notice that you just missed seven winners by a few inches. You lost that race because you got knocked around and taken out wide on the turn. Were you disappointed or angry that you should’ve had seven?
Zac: “At the time I was relieved I was still on my feet, as I very nearly fell. He hooked out that quick and sharp, he nearly took my front legs out but looking back now, it’s a bit disappointing. I’m not complaining too much, I’ll take six winners any day.”
P.M. “You were a few dollars shy of making 2 million Hong Kong bucks in 8 days of riding at Sha Tin and you’ve been making good money for quite awhile now. Does big money like that change you or your lifestyle in any way? Do you do still do the same things you did, say, ten years ago? Do you clip coupons and go for the early bird special or do you eat thousand dollar dinners?”
Zac: “Ha, Ha! Life’s a bit better these days but I’m still the same person I was ten-years ago. I was never one to clip coupons, but I also have always lived within my means.”
P.M.: ” You’ve always been a very positive guy with never anything bad to say about anyone. What ruins Zac’s day? Give me a negative from your mostly positive world.”
Zac: “For me, the fasting is the hard part. Going without food, the dehydration, missing out on party’s, weddings, etc., as I need to stay home and get ready for the races. I can allow myself a night out on occasion, but these are the sacrifices we make.”
P.M.: “You’re a very popular superstar in Hong Kong. Are you able to go out and have dinner or do you get hounded by fans and autograph seekers?”
Zac: “I constantly get stopped for photos on the street and in restaurants, but the waiters do a great job of looking out for me and everyone is fairly respectful for the most part. I’m comfortable in Hong Kong, I like the people and the lifestyle.
P.M.: ” What does Zac Purton do to relax and chill?”
Zac: “I enjoy playing golf, catching up with friends for lunch or dinner, plus spending time with the family. I keep life pretty simple.”
P.M. ” Give me your oddest, or most spiritual moment on the racetrack.”
Zac: “I was riding a horse named Admire Rakti in the Melbourne Cup who was the favorite. He was coming home strong in the stretch but started wobbling and I eased him down. We walked him back to the stable where he just fell and died. He had a heart attack and if he had gone down in the lane, I was in the second position and had twenty horses behind me and probably would have been trampled. In an odd way, that horse may have saved my life.”
P.M.: ” You’ve mentioned you’d like to retire someday, you still have your health, youth and good looks and you’ve achieved remarkable success. I do know you a little bit and you are super-competitive. Do you realistically see a day where you can walk away from the game on your own terms?”
Zac: “All athletes have a shelf life and our bodies can only perform at their maximum for so long. So, yes, I do see myself walking away one day but I’ve got a few good years left in me yet.”
P.M.: ” One for the road; describe yourself in one of your very concise sentences or even two.”
Zac: ” I’m just a small-town kid from the country who was born with a gift. I’m one of the luckier people around.”
P.M.: ” Yes, sir. Born with a gift and lucky, no doubt.” Thank you, Zac.
Zac: Thank you for the interview. “It’s always an experience speaking with you.”
Zac Purton is in a good place. The 36-year-old superstar is a family man who hasn’t forgot his humble country beginnings and always has time to talk to the little people in our sport like myself. He lives to ride and is fully consumed competing in a sport that is basically unforgiving.
But this kid sits a horse like nobody’s business and his mounts seem at ease in his presence and respond accordingly.
Zac Purton is a complete horseman who loves his job.