The Hong Kong Jockey Club has announced the line-up of riders who will compete in next month’s International Jockeys’ Championship, with Australian interest in the event to surround four-time champion HK jockey Zac Purton, Melbourne Cup winner James McDonald and proven Group 1 star Damian Lane.
The trio will compete against the likes of Ryan Moore, Joao Moreira, ‘Aussie Tom’ Marquand and Hollie Doyle on the tight-turning Happy Valley Racecourse in the heart of Hong Kong on December 8.
Purton will head into the championship as the defending champion and a dual winner of the series.
“It’s great to win it,” he said. “It’s a good competition and they’ve got a strong line-up again this year.
“Like every year, you just need to draw the right horses, get some nice gates, throw in a little bit of luck, see how we go.”
This year’s edition of the championship is the second time where it’s been run under a different format.
Previously, rides were allocated to the competing jockeys on a random basis, but this year, like last, jockeys are allocated a more even spread of rides.
“I think the (Hong Kong) Jockey Club have done the right thing, and I was one that advocated for it, to try to make it a little bit more even and a little bit fairer by picking the rides a little bit more selectively, trying to have horses in there with better form and giving the jockeys a bit more of a chance,” Purton said.
“They’ve changed the format, as they did last year, obviously it worked in my favour there and hopefully I can get it done again.”
As the longest-standing jockey in Hong Kong’s highly competitive ranks, Purton knows the ins and outs of Happy Valley like it’s his backyard and rode a double at the course on Wednesday night.
“I love riding at Happy Valley, I like the tight nature of it, I like the competitive racing,” he said.
“A lot happens, you’ve got to be on the ball all the time, there’s no stage of any race where you can be complacent, you’ve always got to be aware of what’s going on and things change very quickly, so you’ve got to be able to adapt to any scenario that comes up.
“I think the most important thing is enjoying it, I really like riding there, a lot of the boys don’t, and I think having that little bit of doubt in their mind creates a little bit of uneasiness, maybe I take advantage of that.”
Lane will be competing in the championship for the first time, but is no stranger to Hong Kong racing, having ridden eight winners in the city across his stints there.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Lane said. “Obviously, it’s a strong line-up of riders, as usual, and I’ve always watched the series with interest, without ever being a part of it.
“It’s great to get the call-up and be able to participate.”
Lane has had fantastic success in Asia, famously winning both the Takarazuka Kinen and Arima Kinen in Japan on Lys Gracieux in 2019, the same year the pair combined to win the Cox Plate.
He believes that those international experiences have played a key role in his career development.
“They’ve certainly helped shape my career, just learning different things on different tracks and from different people,” he said.
“In Hong Kong especially, you meet people from so many parts of the world competing at the top level, and quite often can pick up things.
“It’s definitely helped my riding, being able to do that, and I’m looking forward to December.”
As part of the protocols for the event amid the pandemic, Lane and McDonald, as well as the other hoops coming from overseas, will travel to Hong Kong on a private plane and will be in a separate jockeys’ room to the Hong Kong-based jockeys when they’re competing, while their movements within Hong Kong will be restricted as part of the racing bubble arrangement.
While those measures will limit contact between Purton and Lane and McDonald – with the latter representing New Zealand on the night – he said he’s looking forward to seeing them both there, with McDonald to head over on the back of his record-breaking Melbourne Cup Carnival.
“He’s had a fantastic spring,” Purton said. “He’s been flying for a while now, obviously with the support of (Chris) Waller, they’re just getting stronger, bigger and better all the time. He’s going to come here with a lot of confidence.
“He’s been here before, he knows how to ride the tracks, what to expect, as has Damian, so it will be good to have those boys back here, flying the flag for Australia again.”
As well as Purton, Damien Oliver, Kerrin McEvoy and Hugh Bowman have all won the International Jockeys’ Championship, which was first held in 1998.