The Magic Man: what makes Brazilian ace Joao Moreira so special
The Magic Man. As far as nicknames go it is one we would all like to have, but when it is bestowed upon a rider by a ravenous punting community as hard-nosed and volatile as Hong Kong's, it goes a long way to capturing just how good he is in the saddle.
European racing fans may only be aware of Joao Moreira – who will be in action in the Shergar Cup – as the name the rest of the world throws back when discussing whether Ryan Moore is the best jockey on the planet.
That is because he has rarely ridden on this continent, but the Brazilian-born 34-year-old holds a status rivalled only by whichever God punters in Brazil, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and Japan choose to believe in.
Why is he so revered?
Well, let's start with a simple list of his achievements, as it goes a long way to answering the question. He has twice been crowned top jockey in Brazil (2006-07 and 2007-08), where he has partnered more than 1,000 winners. He claimed the title in Singapore every year from 2010 to 2013 and has since added three championships in Hong Kong's deeply competitive waters.
In 2016-17 he set records in Hong Kong for the fastest century and winners in a season (170 – the previous record was 114 before Moreira rode 145 in his first season and 168 in his second) and he has ridden eight winners on a card on three separate occasions – once in each of those countries in which he has been champion. On top of that he has won Group 1 races in Dubai, Australia and Japan – where he moves next season.
It's not just about the numbers
But it is not just about the numbers. Yes, these days he gets on all the best horses but it has not always been that way and by moving country as often as he has he has forced him start all over and build fresh connections.
To put into perspective just how tough it is to breakthrough in Hong Kong, Oisin Murphy managed to get on four winners there in a three-month contract in 2016-17, while Silvestre de Sousa – arriving in Hong Kong having had the high-profile Godolphin job and as British champion jockey – managed an impressive 16 winners in each of his two stints and was deemed a hugely successful outside rider.
Moreira has earned his way to the plum rides through sheer hard graft and his incredible knack for race-riding. He is an exceptional judge of pace, is always well positioned, understands how to make gaps for himself and is simply a masterful tactician.
Whether it is from the front or picking his way through fields, he rarely seems to get it wrong and, given the pool of sprinters and milers is especially deep in Hong Kong, it would be a major boost to his chances in the Shergar Cup if he were to ride in each of the three shorter races and miss one of the longer events.
Can he win the Silver Saddle?
Of course he can, he is a world class rider and is no stranger to these sorts of competitions having won similar events in Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. He also rode in the Shergar Cup in 2013, winning one race and amassing a team-leading 28 points for the Rest of the World team.
Since then his star has only risen and while that trip to partner Gary Stevens and Yasunari Iwata showcased him as one of the sport's rising stars, this time he returns to Ascot as the biggest name on show.
So much of his chance will come down to the draw, with which horses he is allocated to partner sure to play a major factor in his ability to amass points for overall, but any horse is in with a chance with the Magic Man on board.
He rides Watchable in the opening 5f Dash, a 14-1 shot, while he does not ride in the Stayers race over 2m. In the Challenge, over 1m4f, he partners 5-1 shot Koeman and in the Mile he is on 7-1 chance Bless Him. In the Classic, also over a mile and a half, he is on 12-1 shot Berkshire Blue and in the closing Sprint over six furlongs he partners 14-1 hope Green Power.
The Rest of the World team are the 5-1 outsiders for the team competition, with Moreira a best-priced 12-1 with William Hill for the Silver Saddle.
What they say
Two-time champion jockey Silvestre de Sousa has done two stints in Hong Kong, so knows exactly how good his fellow Brazilian is. He said: "He's a really good jockey. He rides good horses, which helps, good horses make good jockeys. But he gets the opportunity to ride the best horses in each race because he has the ability.
"He's a very good rider, so talented, he's dominant and has broken every record. It's great he's coming over for it, I'm sure he'll enjoy it, and I'm sure he'll ride a winner."
Ascot's director of racing and communications Nick Smith added: "He rode in the event a few years ago when he was on the up and just about to begin his Hong Kong contract, but now he's the full package.
"He's established himself in Hong Kong, he's moving to Japan for another challenge and has ridden winners all over the world. He's done particularly well in Australia. Having him back is one of the significant highlights of the meeting for us without a doubt.
"We've had him on a standing invite for several years and he's been wanting to ride in the event again for several years but certain things have got in the way. Fortunately this year everything's aligned and he forms part of a particularly strong Rest of the World team."
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