Coffs Harbour High School principal Listkow considered Zac Purton to be wasting his time in the realm of reading, writing and arithmetic.
Celebrated alumni of the CHHS include former senator Dr Bob Brown, inaugural Oxfam International chair Dr Judy Henderson OA and former World Championship Tour surfer Lee Winkler.
In total, nine ex-students have been inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame but there’s no mention of Zac Purton.
“That might just be because I was always late for school after morning track work for [his master] Trevor Hardy,” Purton laughed.
“And, one day in Year Nine, the principal came to me and said: “this is just a waste of time for you … go and be a jockey” and that’s all I needed to hear.
“My first winner was on a horse called Magic Zap at Armidale in early June, 2000.” Just three years later, he took Brisbane by storm, winning the jockey’s premiership in 2003 when still an apprentice. I was driving to Queensland very early on Wednesday mornings in a very ‘shabby’ Holden and would stay to ride the next day at Ipswich and then come home. At times I’d need to sleep in the car but it served a purpose – I was getting some really good opportunities.”
Further success came his way in Sydney and in 2007 the world stage beckoned.
Sha Tin will be heaving on Sunday for the annual Longines Hong Kong International Race series, an integral part of the Turf World Championships and Purton will be front and centre.
He’s thriving in Hong Kong, idolised by a legion of fans. Until Wednesday’s meeting at Happy Valley, this season’s rides have banked more than HK$44m (A$7.9m). Significantly, Purton ended Douglas Whyte’s 13-year reign as Hong Kong’s premier jockey in 2013/14 and then halted Joao Moreira’s three-year streak in 2017/18.
That second premiership captured the imagination of racegoers with the 136 – 134 result going down to the wire.
Moreira sought further challenges in Japan but is now back as the stable jockey for John Size and his return has added focus to Purton’s already steely focus.
“Joao is a great jockey and the punters love him,” Purton said. “He can ride lighter [than me] which is to his advantage but being tied to a stable [consisting of around 70 horses] does limit [his] opportunities.”
Such is Purton’s influence on wagering in Hong Kong – the largest horse racing centre in the world by means of per-meeting turnover, just over 40 per cent of his rides start as favourite.
It’s a pressure-cooker situation but the articulate, affable yet feisty Aussie does not dwell on outside influences.
“One day you can ride four winners but, if there’s a two-week break without any success, the punters get edgy,” he beamed. The four Longines’ Group 1s on Sunday total HK$93m (A$16.9m) in stakes and Purton pilots reigning Horse of the Year Beauty Generation in the Group 1 Mile.
Unbeaten in three starts this preparation, Australian-bred Beauty Generation bettered the track record at Sha Tin on November 18 when securing the group 2 Jockey Club Mile with Purton navigating.
He teams with Little Giant in the 1200m Longines Sprint, Time Warp in the 2000m Hong Kong Cup and Exultant in the International Vase (2400m) but the focus is Beauty Generation.
He’s an odds on favourite and the near 80,000 in attendance on this day of days will expect perfection.
Maybe next time he’s back home, Coffs Harbour High might welcome back one of their ‘unsung’ sporting heroes.