Joao Moreira: 'With Zac Purton, it's Messi and Ronaldo, we challenge each other'
JA McGrath talks to the 'Magic Man' about his Champions Day hopes
There will be no Ryan Moore, William Buick or Hugh Bowman parachuting in this year for FWD Champions Day at Sha Tin, but that won’t relieve any pressure for Joao Moreira, who partners stand-out Danon Smash in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
Moreira is Hong Kong’s ‘Magic Man’ and, having ridden 112 winners this season – 14 clear of champion Zac Purton – the Brazilian is living up to his name. Without question, he is a riding phenomenon.
The pandemic has had little effect on betting turnover in Hong Kong but it has made it difficult for jockeys to fly in for the big days. Quarantine regulations are restrictive, even when a racing bubble can be created, so many familiar names are missing.
“But that doesn’t make it easier,” Moreira insists. “The local jockeys know how Sha Tin plays, they understand the surface, the pace of the races. They are used to it. The only way it is easier is that we know each other. We ride against each other every week. We know how these riders will ride their horses.”
Since Hong Kong racing turned professional in 1971 it has been a port of call for top internationals from Lester Piggott, Joe Mercer and Jimmy Lindley in the early days, to Darren Beadman, Kerrin McEvoy and Gerald Mosse decades later, as well as the current stars.
Moreira has come to know what to expect. “International jockeys can change things around,” he points out. “They can come up with Plan B and Plan C in a race. It might catch you off-guard. It may take you by surprise.
“Having said that, we have some decent riders in Hong Kong. When the internationals come here, I don’t fear the jockeys, I fear their rides. When they come, they bring good horses, and it’s always tough to beat them. I respect them,” he adds.
The big difference this year is that only one visiting jockey has flown in – Kohei Matsuyama rides Daring Tact in the QEII Cup – and it has left the way clear for Moreira to pick up the ride on star Japanese sprinter Danon Smash, who Moore rode so expertly to win the Hong Kong Sprint from a car park draw in December.
“Danon Smash is going to be a hot favourite, and he’s the one I’m most looking forward to. I’ve been riding him in track work this week and he’s in very good condition. I couldn’t be happier with him,” he reports.
While Danon Smash looks a good thing, he will not start as short in the betting as reigning Horse of the Year and local hero Golden Sixty, who appears to have a straightforward task in the FWD Champions Mile. Moreira is booked for More Than This but it will take more than the jockey’s magic to beat the favourite.
“I’ll be very surprised if Golden Sixty gets beaten, and if he does, there will be an excuse,” he says. “He’s coming back in distance and last time he had to fight hard to win. But if he brings his A-game, I think he’s nearly unbeatable. I will be happy if More Than This can run a place. If he wins, I will call myself blessed.”
Moreira’s original mount Furore was withdrawn from the FWD QEII Cup due to lameness and he has switched to stablemate Time Warp, whose recent efforts suggest age is catching up with the eight-year-old.
“He hasn’t been able to show as much early speed as in the past and the Japanese Kiseki has more gate speed than him. If Kiseki gets an easy run in front he will be hard to get past,” the jockey predicts.
Moreira looks forward to ten fantastic rides on one of the biggest days in the Hong Kong racing calendar, and surely he can start to feel comfortable with his lead over arch-rival Purton in the title race.
“You know, I’m never confident. I never take things for granted. I’ve been in this position before and got beaten. Nothing is guaranteed. Zac is a good rider and he’s getting support from a lot of different trainers. He’s going to close up on me, but whether he can go past me is a different story.
“I want to win as much as he does. It’s going to go to the wire. There’s no doubt we are helping each other. We are pushing each other. Having that competition means you have to raise your game or get beaten. It’s like Messi and Ronaldo. They’ve been as good as they are because they challenge each other. If one scores, the other wants to go and score twice. That is rivalry.
“I guess who benefits most from the rivalry Zac and I have is racing. The fans are enjoying it,” he says.
They are relishing the battle, which is providing a grand finale to the season in Hong Kong.
Read more about FWD Champions Day
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