FORMER Red Rock resident and champion jockey Zac Purton claimed a career highlight win in the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot last night aboard the Hong Kong-trained Little Bridge.
Purton, whose parents still live at Woolgoolga, guided his charge towards the front of the pack early in the 1,000 metre scramble, before charging away to claim the race by three quarters of a length in front of a huge crowd, which included the Queen.
Purton can still remember shivering in the back of Coffs Harbour trainer Trevor Hardy's horse float on the trip up to Armidale to ride his first winner as an apprentice.
A Northern Rivers premiership and Sydney Apprentices' Title saw him quickly rise to the top of the Australian riding ranks.
But it was when he was invited to take up a contract with the Hong Kong Jockey Club that Purton got launched into the top echelon of jockeys in the world.
Riding week to week against South African master Douglas Whyte, Frenchman Olivier Doleuze and Australia's best in Darren Beadman and Brett Prebble has been a tough school for the former local, but his win at Royal Ascot signals a coming of age for the 29-year-old.
"It's a great experience to be here, and to win a race is even more special,'' Purton said after the win.
"Little Bridge has really improved in the last six months and we knew he'd be competitive.
"Obviously racing against Black Caviar (in the Silver Jubilee stakes) is a bit of a non-event, you'd only run second there.''
Trained by Danny Shum Chap-sing, Little Bridge has quickly stamped himself as a top flight sprinter in Hong Kong.
Such is the strength of the Hong Kong sprinting ranks, it is a natural progression to take the horse to the world stage and carnivals like Royal Ascot.
"Danny wanted to pick this race as the one to target, which probably suited him better anyway being over five furlongs up the straight,'' Purton said.
"He really excels at that.
"Now I think he will be put away (for a spell) and Danny will get him ready for Japan.''
Purton, who sits third on the Hong Kong Jockeys' premiership with a career-high 53 wins for the season, said he would celebrate in a fashion that would do Red Rock's Amble Inn proud.
"I'm going to have as many drinks as I can and then get back on the plane and get back to Hong Kong.''
Click here to view a replay of the race