Let’s not beat around the bush, and be coy, Roy: Joao Moreira has changed the face of horse racing forever.
Some might still argue that Christophe Soumillon and/or Ryan Moore are “the best jockeys in the world”, but both are not the complete package that Joao Moreira is- a naturally gifted rider with perfect balance, a media darling and, very possibly, the world’s first pinup jockey.
His two wins at Flemington yesterday gave the extremely patriotic and parochial Aussie racing fans someone new to cheer for- this Magic Man, or, as race caller Greg Miles screamed out, this “Miracle Man”- an outwardly, quiet, unassuming, affable, approachable Brazilian who’s ascent in the global racing world has been almost overnight.
From being known as “Ghost” in Brazil for popping up out of nowhere and winning races from impossible positions, he became “The Magic Man” in Singapore where he broke every record there was and set some new ones including riding eight winners on a nine-race meeting at Kranji.
But it’s been his decision to make Hong Kong his home and base of operations that has catapulted him to a different stratosphere.
One can only guess that Hong Kong was the one racing world Joao Moreira wanted to conquer- and conquer it has by riding trebles, quintets and sextets with such regularity that he already has 88 wins on the board.
In second place and trailing him by over thirty winners is Zac Purton, certainly no slouch in the saddle, and who is Hong Kong’s reigning champion jockey.
But, in this day and age where things change in a nanu second, the euphoria of Purton’s first premiership win last year, and the glorious thirteen year reign in Hong Kong of the great Douglas Whyte, will forever be in the history books- but these history books are being rewritten every day by the feats of Joao Moreira.
As the great Ayrton Senna, and also a Brazilian, was to Formula 1 racing, Joao Moreira is to Group 1 horse racing.
By the end of this season, he would have broken Whyte’s long-standing record of riding the most number of winners in a season.
If he hasn’t already, he would have amassed more prize money in a single season in Hong Kong than any other jockey, and he seems adamant to be the first jockey to ride a winner for every trainer in the city.
As for those who have regularly mentioned the sponsorship of jockeys, the reason why it’s never happened is simple: There was no one who was marketable, or complete package. Until now.
With his sharp suits- and not designer brands either, but made specifically for him by an Indian friend in Hong Kong named Daniel- his availability to the media and boyish charm, Joao Moreira is the “new, improved Frankie Dettori.”
“Yo Frankie” veered into the area of branding with his series of upmarket Italian restaurants with the somewhat low class name of “Frankie’s”, and a line of clothing that never got off the ground.
But these were during the embryonic days of sports marketing and before longtime friend, Simon Fuller, former manager of the Spice Girls and creator of the “Idol” franchise, took footballer David Beckham, gave him a makeover, negotiated the ground-breaking deal with Galaxy in the US and where Brand Beckham was created- for David, Victoria and their kids.
Today, X1X Management, other than managing some of the biggest names in music- Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert, Annie Lennox-includes sports stars with strong sponsorship appeal in Lewis Hamilton and Andy Murray whereas Simon Fuller has carved a special place for himself and his clients in the sports entertainment world where crafty old school power brokers like Bernie Ecclestone and Sepp Blatter realise that not everyone can be bought and sold. Management of sporting heroes is a serious business. It’s also a powerful business as every sport needs its heroes as heroes are drawcards. It’s not exactly rocket science.
For Hong Kong racing, which means the HKJC, the arrival of Joao Moreira was a godsend.
After all, there was a division within the ranks as to whether Zac Purton was, moving forward, “champion material” whereas to others, the reign of Douglas Whyte had overrun its course.
With change happening all around via social media, consumer habits in the retail sector which spilled over into the online gaming world, horse racing around the world looked tired and one-dimensional with a dwindling and ageing market while not attracting the next generation of racing fans.
The arrival of Joao Moreira meant that the HKJC, the racing club that’s more than a racing club, suddenly had another string to its bow. The Magic of Moreira was instantly infectious.
One can’t help thinking back to Larry Wong, who, somehow, ended up being CEO of the HKJC, with one of his master plans being to market and promote then-champion jockey Basil Marcus as “The Michael Jordan of Hong Kong racing”.
While we took the Kool-Aid away from Larry Wong, it’s always down to timing. And the time is Now for the HKJC to work with names like Simon Fuller and his X1X Management and other global partners and take that USP of being “more than another racing club” further.
Again, looking at timing, the reign of racing executives from Ye Olde School is coming to an end as they rehearse singing “Happy Trails” and get ready to finally leave Hong Kong with their saddlebags bulging with lucre gained over the years.
Whether these executives “delivered” or not, is a futile question with no answer.
They were plucked from the same well in a very different era, parlayed excellent financial packages for themselves, and though some have passed their Use By Date, the Fat Lady is standing at the side of the stage clearing her throat.
The days of the one-dimensional racing executive not understanding the need to possess a more holistic approach to their role, nor having the people skills-and intellect-to sit down with those who have traveled far, mentally and geographically, is over.
A firm handshake and cherry smile doesn’t cut it anymore, and racing executives breaking bread with other racing executives from the same mould and trying to bring about Change will never result in anything.
The arrival of Joao Moreira in Hong Kong has given the HKJC the opportunity to look past the obvious, look beyond recycling the same old same old, and force itself to look at ways to bring about the same type of excitement- and magic- to its various businesses that Moreira is bringing to racetracks.
It is THIS excitement- and magic- that will re-enforce this amazing rider’s decision to move to Hong Kong- a unique, multi-dimensional city that is, sometimes, the wayward child of Mainland China- and become part of the present and future of the HKJC.
And it is seeing and understanding this future that will attract the Moreiras, new talent in other areas, new partnerships and new everything else into a sport that has for too long been left behind and looking like an also-ran in the greater and grander scheme of things.
Only Hong Kong racing and the HKJC can change this perception and turn things around.