Jack Grealish breaks silence with social media apology as Aston Villa fine star

Jack Grealish has said he's "embarrassed" after he ignored government advice and went out despite the country being in lockdown.

The Aston Villa star took to Instagram to admit he had done wrong and urged the public not to follow his example.

Grealish said he received a call from a friend who asked him to come over, an offer that the 24-year-old accepted.

But he was subsequently involved in an incident that saw a Range Rover crash into parked cars in the Dickens Heath area of Solihull on Sunday.

Image also surfaced on social media which looked to show the Villa midfielder wearing a hoody.

He said: “I just want to say how deeply embarrassed I am by what’s happened this weekend.

"I know it’s a tough time for everyone at the moment, being locked in doors for so long, and I just got a call off a friend asking to go round to his and I stupidly agreed to do so.

“I don’t want anyone to make the same mistake I did, so I urge everyone to stay at home, follow the rules and the guidelines of what we’ve been asked to do.

“I know for a fact that I’ll be doing that in the near future now, and I urge everyone to do the same.


“I hope everyone can accept my apology and we can move on from this and hopefully, obviously, in the near future, we can all be out enjoying ourselves again once this has all boiled over.

“So cheers guys, thank you.”

Aston Villa have confirmed that Grealish has been fined for his actions.

A club statement declared: "Aston Villa is deeply disappointed that one of our players ignored the Government’s guidance on staying at home during the Coronavirus crisis.

"Club captain Jack Grealish has accepted that his decision to leave his house was wrong and entirely unnecessary.

"It breached the government guidelines which are clear and should be adhered to by everybody.

"The player will be disciplined and fined with the proceeds donated to The University Hospitals Charity in Birmingham."

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Root expects 'talks in the near future' about players taking pay cuts

England Test captain Joe Root expects ‘talks in the near future’ about players taking pay cuts of up to £200,000 because of the coronavirus pandemic

  • Cricketers face pay cuts and the prospect of being furloughed during the crisis
  • Counties are likely to take advantage of government scheme to help pay wages 
  • Formal negotiation have yet to take place about the possibility of lower wages 
  • The ECB have already ruled out any cricket until May 28 at the earliest 
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England’s star cricketers have been nonplussed by reports that they will be expected to take pay cuts of up to £200,000 as the game repositions its finances because of the coronavirus.

It is understood formal negotiations have yet to take place about the possibility of lower wages, despite an ECB source telling one newspaper over the weekend that ‘the game needs to pull together at this time. We believe the players realise the bigger picture.’

Asked whether he expected his salary – around £1m a year, including win bonuses – to take a hit, England Test captain Joe Root said: ‘I’m sure at some point in the coming weeks there will be a discussion. 

Cricketers in England and Wales face pay cuts and the prospect of being furloughed

‘I’m also aware they are discussions that will take place between the PCA and the ECB. Until that happens, that’s not my area of expertise.’

The ECB are this week expecting to unveil financial plans for tackling the crisis, with the aim of safeguarding cricket at all levels. 

With reserves falling drastically from £73m in 2015-16, that could involve redistributing funds from other areas of the game to ensure all 18 first-class counties stay afloat. 





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What Premier League clubs are doing to keep players ready for action amid coronavirus

A week into the lockdown and Premier League clubs are less concerned about the physical fitness of their players than they are the mental side. Jose Mourinho’s decision to implement a ‘live’ online training session with the coaches today is as much to energise the players’ sense of team spirit as it is their well-tuned limbs.

Individual training plans have been the order of the day across the Premier League as well-schooled teams of sports scientists put together dietary and fitness plans for each of their players according to their specific needs.

Most have extensive personal gyms in their luxury homes and these are replacing the state-of-the-art equipment at the various training grounds.

But it is mental ‘muscle’ that is toughest to exercise for these most hyperactive members of the general population.

Liverpool’s James Milner has been posting videos of himself taking the opportunity to organise his tea supplies and trimming his lawn, but the humour masks the more serious problem. Boredom.

Undoubtedly, some new skills have been learned. Winks seemed delighted with himself at his recent culinary creations, which now extend all the way to, “soups, a lot of salad, eggs and a little bit of pasta.”

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Had plenty of time to think about this… here’s my #isolationXI – let me know who would make your squad… #dadjokeseverywhere

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Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster has also been at the soup – in between watching what he describes as “the classics” on Netflix. By which he means The Office and Star Wars as opposed to Casablanca and Citizen Kane.

Entertainment is clearly the key, though. From toilet roll challenges to tea-bags, all manner of household items have been used by players wanting to show off their fancy footwork.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain saved his for the impromptu dance-floor at the top of his stairs with girlfriend Perrie Edwards.

Meanwhile every meeting of football authorities is met with a huge song and dance.

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Now the tea bags are sorted I’ve got time to level out this lawn… wonder if I can borrow Anfield’s Keep off the Grass sign ������ #onebladeatatime #productiveday #snipsnip ✂️

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Precautionary self isolation can be fun❗️

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UEFA will meet with the various FAs on Wednesday while the Premier League clubs will touch base again on Friday to discuss, among other things, holding a season ending jamboree behind closed doors in the Midlands.

Ludicrously optimistic hopes of getting football back on the road some time soon is a sure sign patience is already wearing thin.

At least the players have the very best sports medical staff in the country the other side of a Facetime call to help spot the signs.

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Arsenal handed £50m Aubameyang transfer boost thanks to Real Madrid, Man Utd and Barcelona

Arsenal have an opportunity to sit down with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and discuss his future before any potential suitors make contact with him, with the striker yet to hear from any clubs interested in snapping him up this summer.

The 30-year-old will enter the final 12 months of his Arsenal contract in July and the £50million-rated frontman has yet to hold negotiations with the north London club about an extension.

Aubameyang is unlikely to make a decision on his future until after Arsenal’s fate this season is determined.

Should the campaign be resumed after the spread of the coronavirus calms down, Arsenal appear unlikely to clinch a Champions League spot for next season.

And failing to do so might convince the Gabon international he needs to move on, having yet to play in the competition since his switch to England in January 2018.

But the clubs heavily linked with Aubameyang – which include Real Madrid, Manchester United and Barcelona – have yet to reach out to Arsenal or the player himself about a possible move.

And so Mikel Arteta and co. have an opportunity to speak with him about his future before any of the interested parties do so.

Football expert Julian Laurens, who offered an update on Aubameyang’s future on ESPN FC, said: “There’s so much at stake there for him and for Arsenal.

“He only has the remainder of this season, whatever that will mean, and then the following season and he’s out of contract. 

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“At the moment because of the current situation, there’s been no talks between him and the club. 

“Although this will be planned at some point to see if maybe he can extend his contract at the Emirates. 

“Other than that, either they will see him in the summer or he will go for free the following one. 

“For a player like him who is 30, you could expect some players to come for him, so far there has been no Barcelona, no Manchester United, no clubs like this from what I’ve been told coming in contact either with Arsenal or Aubameyang and his people. 

“That doesn’t mean that it won’t come later in the season, it might well do because someone as prolific as him with only one year left on his contract, it’ll be very interesting for a lot of top clubs looking for a striker as deadly as him. 

“I think we’re going to talk a lot more about Aubameyang between now and the end of this current season, whenever that is, regarding his transfer or potential transfer or potential of him staying in London because of his contract situation and the current situation as well with football.”

It has been suggested handing the ex-Borussia Dortmund attacker £300,000 a week – which would represent a rise of £100,000 a week on his current terms in the midst of Arsenal’s financial troubles – could convince him to stay.

And Gunners hero Charlie Nicholas thinks that if his former club can offload current top earner Mesut Ozil, who earns a £350,000-a-week salary, then they should do so to fund a pay rise for Aubameyang.

The reigning joint-winner of the Premier League Golden Boot, Aubameyang has been directly involved in 45 of the club’s last 113 top-flight goals despite having largely played out wide in that time when he prefers playing through the middle.

Nicholas told Sky Sports: “While I do believe that Arsenal need to fund a rebuild, my preference would be to offer Aubameyang what he wants.

“Everyone will flag up his wages and I have been told differing scenarios, especially with Mesut Ozil. 

“Is it possible Ozil could move on? Could this then help fund wages for Aubameyang and others? 

“If they can get Ozil off the wage bill without getting anything for him, it will not be too much of a detriment.

“There are differing ways of doing this, but more than anything, I would want Arsenal to renew Aubameyang’s contract for three or four years, if they can. 

“They must give Aubameyang exactly what he wants. There simply aren’t many other players like him at that level.”

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Coronavirus: Uefa set Wednesday meeting to discuss fixture solutions across Europe

A meeting to help plot European football’s path through the coronavirus pandemic has been called for Wednesday.

Uefa has invited the leaders of its 55 national member associations to a video conference starting at 11am UK time to receive an update from working groups set up on 17 March in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

One working group is looking at how the 2019/20 fixture calendar can be completed, while the other has been focused on economic and regulatory issues, such as adjustments to player contracts and transfer windows.

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A decision was taken to postpone Euro 2020 until the summer of 2021 at that 17 March meeting, alongside a commitment to completing domestic and European club competitions by 30 June.

That target now looks optimistic in the extreme, with the continent still in the grip of the pandemic. It was confirmed on Wednesday that there have now been more coronavirus-related deaths in Spain than in China, where the outbreak originated.

Italy too has been hit extremely hard, with more than 10,000 fatalities there linked to the virus, while the UK is on lockdown, with the death toll passing 1,000 over the weekend.

It has been reported that one proposal that member associations will be asked to consider would involve finishing the 2019/20 season in August and then playing a shortened 2020/21 campaign to avoid that season overlapping with the new dates for Euro 2020.

A statement on Monday read: “Uefa has invited the general secretaries of its 55 member associations to a video conference on Wednesday 1 April at midday to share an update on the progress made by the two working groups that were created two weeks ago and to discuss options identified with regards to the potential rescheduling of matches.

“The meeting will look at developments across all Uefa national team and club competitions, as well as discussing progress at Fifa and European level on matters such as player contracts and the transfer system.”

Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin accepts any firm forward planning is almost impossible given the current uncertain outlook.

Ceferin told Italian media outlet La Repubblica over the weekend: “There is a plan A, B and C. We can start in May, in June or the end of June. If we can’t do it on any of those three dates then the season probably would be lost.

“There is also the possibility to finish the season at the start of next season, with next season starting a little late. It would have to work with respect to the players and the signing periods.”

In terms of player contracts, world players’ union FifPro, which is represented on the second working group, has expressed support for the idea of deals being extended until the 2019/20 season is complete, provided it applied to all contracts and not just those of players that clubs wanted to keep.

The union’s secretary general Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said earlier this month: “With a little bit of common sense and co-operation from everybody, this should be resolvable.”

The dates for a transfer window are at the individual discretion of national associations, but Uefa members may seek to align themselves to avoid being at any disadvantage from an earlier closure than a rival competition.

PA

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What Liverpool owners FSG think about paying £120m for Jadon Sancho transfer

Liverpool are desperate to sign Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund but his price tag is likely to prove a problem. The England international is attracting plenty of interest ahead of the next transfer window after a sublime campaign for the Bundesliga giants. Manchester United and Chelsea are also interested in securing his services.

Sancho has risen to prominence since departing Manchester City for Dortmund for £8million in the summer of 2017 and a return to the Premier League appears to be on the cards.

He is unlikely to be moving to Anfield, however, because Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group deem the 20-year-old’s asking price of £120million to be too much considering they have Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane on their books.

Salah and Mane, who Express Sport understands is a transfer target for Real Madrid, are, arguably, the deadliest wingers in the Premier League so it would not make economical sense to spend big on Sancho while Jurgen Klopp’s squad is already well stocked out wide.

According to The Irish Independent, Sancho is set to move to Old Trafford and has already unofficially confirmed that is where he is heading.

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Dortmund have admitted they will not stand in his way if he wants to depart.

Speaking on Sunday, Hans-Joachim Watzke, the club’s CEO, said: “Even before the coronavirus outbreak, we said that we prefer that Jadon stays with us.

“At the end of the day, however, you always have to respect what the player wants.”

But Watzke has warned interested clubs Dortmund will not be budging from their hefty valuation of Sancho.

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“I’ll say clearly say that even the very rich clubs shouldn’t believe that they can come here to snap up bargains,” he said.

“We don’t have to sell anyone for less than they’re worth.”

Sancho contributed 13 goals and 19 assists in 43 games in all competitions for Dortmund last season but has taken his game to a whole new level this term.

In eight fewer appearances, the London-born ace has hit the back of the net 17 times while creating 19 goals.

It is the sort of form that has caught the attention of the all the continent’s big clubs.

And Barcelona legend Xavi has urged his former club to swoop for Sancho’s services.

“I would sign wingers. Players like Neymar – I don’t know if he would fit because of the social aspect,” the former midfielder said.

“In a football sense I have no doubts he would be a spectacular signing.

“Barcelona have good players through the middle but they lack wingers like the ones Bayern have.

“They don’t need a lot of new players: Jadon Sancho, Serge Gnabry.”

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Anthony Joshua called ‘poor man’s Muhammad Ali’ for Andy Ruiz Jr rematch performance

Anthony Joshua has been labelled a ‘poor man’s Muhammad Ali’ by legendary trainer Teddy Atlas for his performance against Andy Ruiz Jr back in December. AJ won back the world titles he lost to the Mexican with a points victory in Saudi Arabia.

Joshua dropped the WBA, WBO and IBF belts to Ruiz Jr in New York last summer in New York after getting knocked out.

But the Brit came back in December with an entirely new game plan and outboxed an overweight Ruiz Jr to regain his titles.

And while Atlas was impressed with the performance, he couldn’t help that note it was like watching a ‘poor man’s Muhammad Ali’.

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“A lot of people thought Joshua was the best, but then he gets knocked out by Ruiz Jr, but then he reinvent himself, which is not an easy trick,” the said on his own podcast.  

“Joshua remade himself, he was a guy that was in front of you, he used his physicality, big guy, sculptured body like an adonis.

“He’ll look to counter and lead, he’s an Olympic gold-medallist, he had a little dimension to him.

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“But for the most part, he was taking the fight to you.

“He then gets knocked out by Ruiz Jr, reinvents himself and he becomes a poor man’s version of Muhammad Ali.

“And I’m not knocking him, because everyone is a poor man’s version of Muhammad Ali.

“He did a real good job by doing what he had to do to beat Ruiz Jr in the second fight, to play into Ruiz Jr’s weaknesses.

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“In his next fight with a new style, will it be a combination of his new and old style? That’s interesting.”

Joshua is set to fight Kubrat Pulev next but the fight, scheduled for June 20, may be moved because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pulev is Joshua’s IBF mandatory challenger and the two were supposed to right in 2017 before the Bulgarian injured his shoulder.

Atlas, however, believes that Pulev has been a disappointment as a professional career and may be too old to challenge Joshua.

“Pulev had a big amateur career but he’s not a spring chicken, he’s 38, very close to 40. Things change at 40,” he added.

“You got Pulev who’s been a little bit of a disappointment, he was a good amateur, he’s from Bulgaria, but he’s not quite what they thought he would be.

“He got knocked out by Wladimir Klitschko back in 2014, he’s won all his fights since but not at that level.”

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Coronavirus: ‘Nothing off the table’ as Premier League scramble for solutions to finish season

In the videoconferences being staged by the Premier League these days, a mood of innovation is being encouraged. The view is very much that “nothing is off the table”. Almost anything will be considered. That is the determination to finish the 2019-20 season. Many would say desperation – which raises a series of other questions.

It is this mindset, nevertheless, that has led to the idea of isolated World Cup-style camps and a June-July “TV mega event” gaining traction over the last few days.

It won’t definitely happen, but is strongly under consideration.

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To some involved, it is a “genius” solution, that may well be the most workable in the circumstances. To others, including people central to discussions, it is pretty crass in those circumstances and only encourages the perception that football believes it is a law unto itself and somehow separate.

Some subscribe do the view that it’s tone-deaf to even be discussing potential solutions in such a health crisis.

On that, it should be pointed out that football officials are just like the majority of the population at this time: they have a lot of time to fill, and jobs to fulfil. The crisis hasn’t suspended that. It is perfectly legitimate ad obvious for them to spend that work-time trying to come up with solutions and contingency plans for all of this – and there is an inherent realisation that flexibility is essential.

There’s also the fact that these debates are not taking place in public. It’s just that information will get out, and it’s the sports media’s job to find out and report it, which is equally legitimate in the circumstances. Few want to think about the effects of coronavirus 24-7, and there is a fair wonder as to what might happen to a sport that generally consumes a lot of people – especially as it is implicitly acknowledged that it isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things.

A deeper problem here is the fact that the Premier League, and a lot of football, is facing a ticking clock.

If the season is not completed, the 20 clubs could have to pay hundreds of millions back to the broadcasters. Some calculations have it that the Premier League could lose up to £1.2bn in such an event, compared to just £169m if games are played behind closed doors. On the other side, there is the danger of the break in play just becoming so long it distorts all competition.

It is why this issue for once isn’t as simplistic as being down to greed, even if it is still about money.

For some clubs, this may genuinely develop into a matter of survival – and that is already the case lower down the football pyramid.

It’s also why this is not just being considered in England. German sources have told The Independent the Bundesliga is making similar plans, and talking about using a handful of stadiums to stage the final set of matches. The competition was one match-day away from receiving TV money for the season, money that is crucial for the whole German pyramid.

The greatest question around all this is really how football has become so belligerently beholden to such interests, and why exactly the sport is so rigidly structured along these lines.

If the so-called people’s game can’t easily take pause at a time of real-world crisis for those same people, it is time for a mass reassessment.

Those same pressures, however, mean that is a question for later. For now, football’s authorities must try and find the most workable solution.

It won’t necessarily be the “fairest” solution. That is almost impossible, which means compromises are essential.

For their part, the majority of the Premier League realise this. Some outside the discussions are pointing to how the founding principles of league football will be distorted, especially if the very concept of a home-and-away programme is being compromised.

The clubs themselves know this, but would still just prefer to get the season finished. And a founding principle of the Premier League is that a majority of 14 rules in such votes.

The clubs, however, aren’t the only stakeholders. There are obviously the fans, and hundreds of thousands of season-ticket holders.

They should be recompensed in such an event, but this of course really does go beyond money. Supporters bought those tickets because they want to attend games, because that community expression is really what football is about.

It again begs the bigger question of why and how the sport is structured as it is. Many in the game would again point to those greater pressures.

The argument is that if they don’t play the season out, a lot of these supporters won’t have the same game – or maybe even the same club – to go back to.

They would say it’s all about the greater good – which is something else that’s worth pointing back to, but not just in a football sense.

One of the reasons effective training grounds in the midlands have been mooted for this solution is to mitigate against the possibility of fans congregating for games, and that of course reflects many other ethical concerns.

How can a state preach social distancing when they allow matches to take place where there is constant contact, and sweating and movement, between players – not to mention the hundreds of staff required for televised games?

How can the medical professionals essential to the staging of such matches be ethically allowed work at them when there is an ongoing crisis?

And what of the hotel staff and all the other workers who will be required to make this happen?

It all sounds so irresponsible in that context, and makes the fundamental idea of these hermetically sealed camps a fantasy.

Sources within the Premier League insist all of that is precisely why the plan is explicitly for June and July and not now, as they are planning for a period after the peak of deaths.

There is a hope that the circumstances will have changed for the better, that testing will be more widespread and the curve will have flattened. They know this is the only way this is appropriate.

There is also the danger, however, that it could get worse.

Sources in Italy point to how any push to get football back has been rendered pointless by the tragic number of deaths and the fact many in football have been badly affected, having lost loved ones. It just hasn’t been on the agenda.

“The mindset in the Premier League might well transform if you’re in a situation where some of these same figures or chairmen are on ventilators or their families are,” one figure close to the discussions said.

Even if it doesn’t get to that, a scenario where there are 500 deaths a day would immediately make it grotesque and inappropriate to even consider such a plan feasible. Announcing it would be the height of insensitivity.  It would also run the risk of perpetually damaging the Premier League’s reputation, as we’ve seen with other businesses like Britannia Hotels or Wetherspoons.

The government are aware of all this, but have still offered quiet encouragement to the plans. The belief is that live televised football could be a vital lift for the nation, especially if lockdown measures are increased or tightened. It might also be a key psychological step in returning to normality and getting the economy moving again. For all the altruism behind such backing, mind, there are more self-interested lobbies invested in and influencing this. Marketing, gambling and, yes, the media, would be in favour. The government are aware of this, too.

There’s then the self-interest of the clubs themselves.

But that is why, if it does actually happen, some of the cost should be compensated by giving a lot back. Some have excitedly talked about the massive interest such TV events would generate – and the massive money. That would be all the more reason to put much of that money to better use.

If an argument is this is needed so the Premier League save themselves, solidarity funds should be set up to save those lower down the football pyramid – and, above all, to contribute to the wider fight against the coronavirus crisis.

Any money from this should go in multiple directions, not just 20. That is the only way it should be allowed to take place.

That’s, of course, if it can take place at all. One positive test could disrupt the whole thing. One positive test before a crucial final game would be even worse, and the very thought displays how the circumstances could be open to abuse.

It still instinctively feels like the best and only thing that football can do is wait and see, and ensure any proposed solutions are entirely flexible.

The pressures currently mitigate against that approach. The situation, however, may well force it.

This crisis may yet clear the table of any idea put forward.

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Marcus Rashford: Manchester United receive boost after encouraging scans on back injury

Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford is stepping up his rehabilitation after encouraging scans on his back injury.

United’s top scorer has been sidelined since suffering a double stress fracture of his back in an FA Cup third round replay win over Wolverhampton Wanderers in January.

Before the suspension of football amid the coronavirus pandemic, Rashford was at risk of missing the remainder of United’s campaign and Euro 2020 with England.

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But the 22-year-old revealed this weekend that he feels “10 times better” and is making significant progress in his recovery.

A club statement, released on Monday afternoon, read: “Marcus Rashford has been cleared to step up his rehab programme following encouraging signs on his latest scans.

“His progress will continue to be monitored by the club medical team throughout the current lockdown period.”

Like the rest of United’s squad, Rashford is following an individual training programme at home to stay fit during the pandemic.

United were preparing to return to Carrington and resume group training on 10 April, though government lockdown measures are unlikely to have been lifted by then.

“Everyone’s just dealing with the circumstances as well as they can,” Rashford told Sky Sports. “I have just been in my house, doing my recovery work, reading books, watching Netflix and just whatever you can do to make the time pass. 

“There is not really anything that comes close to that feeling of being in the changing room, in the team, in my opinion, so to be honest I am not trying to chase that high. 

“I had to have time off anyway and relax because of my injury. I am fortunate enough to have a bike in the gym downstairs so not much in that sense has actually changed for me, because I can still do the daily routine that I was doing.”

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Zac Purton fighting for Hong Kong title

Zac Purton knows he has a real fight on his hands to defend his Hong Kong champion jockey crown and prevent arch rival Joao Moreira from claiming the title for a fourth time.

After entering Sunday’s meeting at Sha Tin at the top of the table, Purton, despite riding a double, ended the day two winners behind Moreira, as the Brazilian – nicknamed ‘Magic Man’ – recorded a five-timer.

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