Double puts Purton one ahead of Moreira
First time since last September that Australian is leading in HK jockeys' table
It's taken 52 race meetings but a Zac Purton double at Happy Valley on Wednesday night meant the reigning champion jockey poked his nose into the lead in the title race for the first time since late September last year.
The Australian ace arrived at the city-side venue one win behind his great rival Joao Moreira. At Sha Tin on Sunday, Purton outpointed the Brazilian by three wins to two.
The championship race seems set for a ding-dong battle through to the season's final meeting at the Valley on July 15.
"It looks that way but we'll just see what happens.It's going to come down to which of us gets the better support - that'll be the decisive factor," Purton said.
Jolly Honour capped a race-to-race brace for the rider and pushed him to 90 wins over Moreira's 89.
The Me Tsui-trained galloper hit the front 250m out in the Class 3 Po Chong Wan Handicap over 1,650m and held the late drive of Naboo Star by 3/4 lengths.
"He got a nice position and travelled well the whole race," Purton said. "He got left in front a little earlier than I wanted but that's just the way the race unfolded - I think there's more there."
The three-time champ enjoyed a cosier win one race earlier when the John Moore-trained Shouson took section two of the Class 3 Kong Sin Wan Handicap over 1,200m by 21/2 lengths.
"He travelled well into the race and did it nicely but really everything just happened perfectly for him," Purton said.
Purton and Moreira are well clear of the rest of the jockeys' pack, but a fascinating secondary battle is taking shape after Grant van Niekerk bagged a hat-trick.
The South African has struck a rich seam of success lately, and, with his trio arriving on the back of a brace at Sha Tin last weekend, the South African is accelerating into a three-way race for third place in this season's premiership.
Karis Teetan holds the coveted third spot with 50 wins, ahead of Vincent Ho's 45, while van Niekerk is now on 37.
"Vincent and Karis are two very good riders, so I'll just take it as it comes. They are in sight and I'll be trying hard to get third place. It's not an easy task but, when you get support here, it's not impossible," van Niekerk said.
The rider opened his night's account on the Douglas Whyte-trained Best Alliance in section two of the Tin Wan Handicap over 1,650m, and that first success on a Whyte stable galloper was his personal pick.
"Douglas is an iconic person - growing up around racing people in South Africa you always hear the name Douglas Whyte, so riding my first winner for him in Hong Kong is something special and close to my heart. Obviously, I've been trying for a couple of meetings to get that first winner for him so it's really special for me," he said.
Van Niekerk followed up in the next race, section two of the Class 4 Sha Wan Handicap over 1,000m on the John Size-trained Zero Hedge.
He then made it three wins, aboard the Frankie Lor-trained Blooming Spirit in section one of the Class 4 Tin Wan Handicap over 1,650m. - HKJC