By Hans Ebert
Action really speaks louder than words, especially when it comes to sports, and even more so when that sport is horse racing. We can write, tweet, blog and talk about this and that jockey, and how they’re the best in the world- riders like Ryan Moore, Silvestre de Sousa and Joao Moreira, all three currently riding and competing against each other in Hong Kong. But when actually watching them in action, even on a rain-sodden Happy Wednesday aboard horses hardly of Group status, there’s the realisation right in front of your eyes as to why they are so much in demand, and why they are considered the best. There’s a privilege- and pride- in seeing them together on the one race track.
At a time when the brilliance of Joao Moreira was turning Hong Kong racing into a regular one-man magic show and one-trick pony, the HKJC made a strategic decision: they called in for world-class reinforcements- Moore and de Sousa- to bring in some extra flair and make things more competitive. Though in Hong Kong on short-term licenses, and making almost cameo appearances, it’s working.
Joao Moreira remains the brilliant jockey that he is, but it no longer looks like only Lex Luthor armed with a kryptonite boulder can stop him. That total domination is tempered- at least for a while. And he seems to enjoy the new competition. It pushes him to fine-tune his talents even more. After all, even a Magic Man can learn new tricks.
There’s also a mutual admiration society, particularly between Moreira and Moore, that’s great to see. These two riders chatting while taking their horses to the barriers might seem insignificant, but it’s not. Things like this are Feel Good moments for the sport. They are far and few between, so let’s embrace them when we can.
Yes, Joao Moreira won the Jockey Challenge- again- and book-ended the meeting with a double, but the wins of Moore and de Sousa were equally outstanding. It was all great theatre to racing fans- and to those new to the sport when told they were privy to a Who’s Who of riding talent- brilliant athletes totally in sync with their equine partners.
Silvestre de Sousa was coolness personified when winning the Japan Racing Association Trophy aboard Peace And Prosperity. While Karis Teetan closed in on him on Secret Command, the UK’s champion jockey of last year, never ever panicked. He didn’t resort to hammering his mount and going whip crazy. He rode Peace And Prosperity out hands and heels and did just enough to win.
There was also a piece of competitive horsemanship between Moreira and Moore for a minor placing that wasn’t missed- the Magic Man riding Da Vinci confidently and looking certain to secure second placing, but only to be overhauled right on the line by Moore on Triumphant Elite. And let’s not overlook the ride of Richard Fourie to win this race on Smart Declaration- a brave ride where he persevered with an inside run. It was a world class ride that might have even brought a smile to the face of trainer David Ferraris, sometimes, the Darth Vader of Hong Kong racing.
The HKJC’s strategy of a revolving roster of top flight jockeys – or its Lazy Susan of international riders- is working. You know what they say about variety…
A few weeks ago, Hong Kong racing fans were introduced to the talents of Gregory Benoist and Vincent Cheminaud. Though here for only a few meetings, they made an immediate impact with trainers and owners. Cheminaud winning on his last ride in Hong Kong aboard So Fast for a trainer the calibre of John Size- a tough, determined ride- did not go unnoticed. Another mutual admiration society was formed with the trainer praising the young French jockey for his work ethic and talent, and Cheminaud comparing Size to his legendary master in Europe- trainer Andre Fabre. Any bets that the young Cheminaud will be back in Hong Kong- and receive good solid support from the John Size yard? Pour certainment.
What these short stints are also doing is improving the local riders. Keith Yeung, Vincent Ho and especially Derek Leung, have never ridden better. Though much has to do with the Club arranging overseas riding experience for all three during the off-season, when competing against the best, there is a need to raise your game. And they’re doing it. All this is wonderful to watch, and the back stories are absorbing.
What the HKJC has right now is a marketing dream with a cherry on top. It serves up two international race meetings a week starring the United Nations of Racing. This, somehow, must be bottled and marketed beyond its captive market. In a content-driven world, this is content- content that shows horse racing at its very best and a cast of likeable characters being great ambassadors for the sport.
On Sunday at Shatin, returning to the fray after sitting out the last three meetings due to a suspension, will be Zac Purton.
Flying in to ride last start winner Werther for John Moore on the same day in the Group 1 Hong Kong Classic Mile is possibly the best rider in Australia today- Hugh Bowman.
Bowman, Purton, Prebble, Callan, Whyte, the great Gerald Mosse plus the triumvirate of Moreira, Moore and de Sousa. If this isn’t The Greatest Show On Turf, what is? Frankly, this could easily be an ongoing reality show about the world of horse racing in a city undergoing Ch-ch-ch-changes- an online reality series with international appeal, inter-activity in real time, and marketed in different ways to a very diverse audience. And let’s not forget the sponsorship appeal. It’s all about seeing The Big Picture- and making it come alive.