When Joao Moreira made that surprise landing in Hong Kong in late 2013 with his “Magic Man” label, racing fans in the city knew that here was a very successful jockey, but few knew just how special he was.
There were, of course, many in Singapore who had been singing his praises from the time he arrived there from Brazil in 2009, but as with most anything to do with the Lion City is concerned, Hong Kong Belongers have a history of not taking anything and anyone from there seriously- the city’s television industry, its music industry, the nightlife, the fashion. Apart from its Sarong Party Girls, everything has always been dismissed as “Singapore-lah”.
Some of us had seen Moreira ride at a few meetings in Oz when Nathan Tinkler would fly him down to ride for his then-Patinack empire, but, still, the “Magic Man” tag was hard to buy, especially not when riding against the calibre of jockeys like Dougie Whyte, Zac Purton and, when in the mood, Gerald Mosse. “Who was the competition in Singapore?” asked some despite Moreira having ridden eight winners in a nine race card before doing a David Blaine and transporting himself to Hong Kong.
In the seventeen or so months he has been in Hong Kong, Joao Moreira has answered this question in spades and continues to mesmerise racing fans here- and worldwide- with the same mantra repeated by all: “Horses just travel for him.”
Douglas Whyte with thirteen consecutive Jockey Premierships to his credit, has indelibly etched a name for himself in Hong Kong racing history. But his reign only began after a number of years of doing “due diligence” and paying his dues.
Same goes for Zac Purton, who took a number of years before winning the support that saw him dethrone Whyte last season and win his first Hong Kong Jockey Premiership. And then there’s Joao Moreira who hit the ground running.
Possibly only a short stint in Hong Kong by the legendary American rider Gary Stevens has come close to making the same immediate impact that the Brazilian Magic Man has achieved. Close but not close enough.
For Moreira, the Red Seas parted, the red carpet was rolled out, John Size parted company with long-time comrade in arms Douglas Whyte.
John Moore, meanwhile, soon realised he didn’t have to fly in extra troops from Sydney for his stable stars, and all roads led to Moreira’s door. The banging on that door has not stopped. The mountains came to Mohammed and racing’s mountains come to Joao Moreira.
As one trainer said, “I would love to have Joao on all my horses, but he takes over a week to make up his mind, and, most of the time, the answer is a polite No. He’s spoilt for choice and is in that enviable position of riding horses with the best chances. Who can blame him?”
Some will say that the overnight success of Moreira was “choreographed” to ensure a marquee value name in Hong Kong and bring some new excitement to the riding ranks ruled for so long by Whyte- a gifted young rider with a charismatic personality and that effusive Brazilian character that’s long been popular with Hong Kong sports fans- especially the legion of Chinese football fans who grew up admiring the feats of Pele, Garrincha, Jairzhinio, and every World Cup team from Brazil.
In this city, the Made In Brazil brand has always stood for exceptional sporting heroes- heroes like Pele and the great Ayrton Senna and Emerson Fittipaldi- and now racing has horse power.
When singer Jennifer Palor, who wouldn’t know Able Friend from Cable Guy, recently met Moreira for the first time at the Happy Valley Racecourse venue Adrenaline while rehearsing a new song written for Able Friend, she giggled and carried on like a love-struck schoolgirl.
“I couldn’t help it! He’s so NICE!” she explained before adding, “Look at you! When speaking to him, you forgot I even existed!”
Yes, Moreira brings out the man-love in the most cynical of men. Look at the lavish praise heaped on him recently by former champion jockey Shane Dye, someone with always an opinion, who didn’t mince words about his thoughts of Douglas Whyte as a jockey.
This likability factor of Joao Moreira is something never ever seen before- not even when Frankie Dettori was fine-tuning his victory jump- in the dog-eat-dog world of horse racing with its ankle biters and bottom feeders.
Experienced racing writers, who have seen and met them all, other riders who have to compete against him, trainers, owners and even hardened racing executives have, unbelievable as it may seem, nothing bad to say about Moreira.
As we have said before, Everybody Loves Raymond and Everyone Loves Joao, this mercurial jockey, who rode bareback before discovering the saddle quite late in his short career, and nicknamed “Ghost” when riding in Brazil for his habit of popping up in a race when least expected- and winning.
The question now is, what next for Joao Moreira? Or where next?
At the start of this season, he requested and was granted a six month licence, something unprecedented. This ability to make the powerful HKJC organisation bend the rules showed Moreira’s bargaining skills, and a not-so-subtle message that if he couldn’t adapt to riding here, and was hit with the same amount of careless riding charges that greeted his first few months in Hong Kong, he had options to leave for greener pastures.
Signing on recently for the rest of the season was a given as is the fact that he will win his first Hong Kong Jockey Premiership and beat Douglas Whyte’s long-standing record for riding the most number of wins in one season.
The Magic Man is one nickname given to Joao Moreira. Another is “The Smiling Assassin”- a compliment, where, other than being a naturally gifted jockey with a voracious appetite to win, Joao Moreira, the religious family man and businessman, comes into play. Nothing wrong with this. It’s called looking out for Number One.
Other jockeys might have tried, but they have not had the support system Moreira has quickly built for himself.
Of course, no one is indispensable, but The Magic Man comes very close to being the exception.
The man has star power. He is the main attraction win, lose or draw, and Mok Leeoi Laa with his Chinese nickname of “Thor,” is also known to those outside of the racing world.
Will he sign on for the entire next season in Hong Kong? Let’s hope he does.
The combination of Joao Moreira and the HKJC makes for a formidable brand- a global brand with sponsorship appeal that, with the world’s best miler in Able Friend, can take horse racing into the much wider world of sports entertainment that alluded it, and, by so doing, attract a new generation of racing fans.
It can- and should- be a win-win partnership and a real big game changer.
Hans Ebert ©