By Hans Ebert

On a day when the racing news took its cue from the 15 month disqualification of leading jockey Nash Rawiller which has bitterly disappointed those of us who know and like the soft spoken rider, the Chinese racing media and the local online world latched onto this. It was overshadowing the race meeting later that evening.

While those with long memories of the early settlers from the land down under in the racing game who made Hong Kong their happy stomping grounds and were well known for their opportunistic dealings nonchalantly pointed out, “Typical. It’s another Australian jockey”, another Australian was making this negativity go away. All one can say is, Thank you, Zac Purton for accentuating the positive.

Al Stewart might have sung about The Year Of The Cat, but those those of us who have been privy enough- yes, privy- to watch the grit, the determination, the focus, the athleticism and that cheeky swagger after riding a winner, will look back at this season as The Year Of The Zac.

The way he has kept chipping away at Joao Moreira’s lead in the Hong Kong Jockeys Premiership has already won over many. It’s more than a “horse racing” story. It’s an inspirational story of doing one’s best if one is going to get through this thing called life.

It’s about passive aggression, inspiration and perspiration and what can be achieved through self belief. And when on April on April 25, 2018 at Happy Valley racecourse the Zac Attack was unleashed once, twice, thrice, and to bring the curtain down on a memorable night, riding his fifth winner and beating his arch rival in the process in a very tight finish, it was sweet irony.

Of course Joao Moreira is no pushover. His only winner for the night on Eighty Eighty and having to settle for second placing in that memorable last race, showed the current champion Hong Kong jockey desperate to ensure that this title continues to be his.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, but what we saw was a brilliant rider who’s always displayed finesse in that arena that is a racetrack, momentarily look somewhat desperate. The beautiful aerodynamics that are part of the Magic Man’s riding repertoire suddenly disappeared. In its place was full scale aggression.

Zac Purton has played it well- the underdog who can’t ride as light as Moreira and so loses out on the opportunities that come naturally to the Brazilian, not thinking about this drawback, but instead looking extremely carefully at what rides he will accept and those he will turn down. Quality not quantity.

Whereas we have seen Joao Moreira pull the wrong rein quite frequently recently when it comes down to choosing his rides- also those he’s taken and continues to take in Oz on no hopers- Zac Purton has sensed an Achilles heel. He’s not just upped his game, he’s playing a smarter game. He has his foe on the back foot. He’s got him bewitched, bothered and bewildered. He’s got him to blink first.

On Wednesday night it was a little like watching Muhammad Ali at his best- taunting, jabbing, ducking, weaving and then finally unleashing that knock out punch. Five times.

Joao Moreira has also always been the man with the best sound bites. Zac Purton is now matching him. It’s like he’s been watching videos of Muhammad Ali when he was Cassius Clay aka The Louisville Lip. He’s floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. He’s taunting his opponent. He’s working the room. He’s giving the racing media some brilliant quotes. It’s all part of an athlete in the business of building a brand. It’s living up to being the Zac Attack. And he’s enjoying it.

Win, lose or draw, he’s the winner this season. Not to take anything away from Joao Moreira, oh, but he has. He’s rattled the cage. He’s in the zone. This time, he’s the smiling assassin.

Over especially the past three years, we’ve seen a new, improved Zac Attack model. That street fighter mentality is still there…but it’s packaged in designer clothing.

He’s giving of his time. He knows it’s good for him and that it’s good for the sport. The man child has come of age and he’s marketing himself in the best possible way: Naturally.

Personally, I will always remember asking Zac if he would care to explain to the camera what a Happy Wednesday night at Happy Valley is. With no script, no direction, zero hesitation, he just spoke.

On Wednesday night, the video was screened between races a number of times. I looked at his absolute belief in what he was saying. He was more than persuasive. He was real. It was there in his eyes.

I turned to my guitarist friend Jay and said, “He’s good, isn’t he?” Jay’s reply? “Of course. It’s Zac. He’s a great guy.”

We keep hearing the expression that this one or that one is “good for racing”. It’s often too easy to say. It’s often had me thinking, Why? How?

Last night at Happy Valley, Zac Purton did something special with his five winners. It wasn’t just about being “good for racing”. It was more. It was someone taking horse racing to a new audience. And now THIS is good for racing.

#ZacPurton #HKJC #horseracing #JoaoMoreira #HappyWednesdayHK #HKracing #NashRawiller