(Courtesy of www.fasttrack.hk)
By Hans Ebert
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The world is not just Joao Moreira’s oyster, it’s his Filet Mignon, Dom Perignon, abalone, and after his phenomenal six win haul at Sapporo Racecourse on Sunday, it’s also his sushi, sashimi and tempura.
Without regurgitating everything that’s already been written and reported by the world racing media about the Magic Man’s latest trick, the tweets below should tell the whole story.
The question that we keep asking ourselves is, And what next? What’s left? Yes, there’s his lucrative and highly successful riding career in Hong Kong, where Joao Moreira continues to raise the bar. He’s also proven time and time again that he is an extremely media savvy and politically correct professional. There’s much thought behind his every quote, and mentioning to the media that his six meeting bus man’s holiday in Japan was mainly to blow away any cobwebs and be fighting fit and ready to take on all comers during the new Hong Kong racing season that starts at Shatin on Saturday could have been written by a speechwriter. Joao Moreira is no fool. Many jockeys can learn much from him. Not only about riding, but about presenting themselves where they “share the wealth” with others. He doesn’t, like others have done in the past, bite the hand that feeds him. He knows how to play the game- not in any devious way, but simply by looking out for Numero Uno.
With his family having settled into Hong Kong lifestyle plus his complete dominance of the racing scene in the city, Joao Moreira is like the old television character Will Paladin. Paladin, a mysterious cowboy, presented a card that said, “Have gun will travel”. The Magic Man has his flying carpet to travel wherever and whenever the right opportunities come along- as long as these are approved by the HKJC. And for the strictly managed Club where no one’s ever been indispensable, it’s now working with a different type of animal to, for example, Douglas Whyte, and when he ruled the roost for thirteen consecutive years. Whyte, the consummate professional, played by the rules at a time when top riders jetting around the world to ride was still very much behind the barriers.
The sudden arrival of Moreira from Singapore, and his immediately successful partnerships with especially the powerful stables of John Size and John Moore, signalled the end of the Whyte era.
It was time for a change, and the need to up the ante and give Hong Kong racing fans a new racing hero- someone likeable though Whyte was certainly respected, someone better than anyone seen in the city before and a jockey who could eventually become a marquee value name and personality. And Joao Moreira was one of probably three jockeys in the world at the time who ticked all the right boxes. Being Brazilian didn’t hurt either. Brazil and its football players having always been firm favourites with local fans during every World Cup. And now, Hong Kong had a Brazilian jockey- the Pele of horse racing.
What followed has been that conga line of complete dominance- rewriting Hong Kong racing’s history books by creating record after record- and then breaking them- making flying visits to win races in Dubai, Singapore, Australia and Japan- and winning over racing fans around the world, plus trainers, some of the biggest horse owners- and having the smarts to weigh everything out. Did he turn down an offer from Godolphin? Maybe. And if he did, it was probably a smart move. Why uproot his family again from their comfort zone and move to ride for, sure, a powerful stable, but not one really known for its loyalty when it comes to riders? Why leave a base of operations like Hong Kong where he is in a league of his own?
The marriage of convenience and partnership between the HKJC and Joao Moreira, to some, “The Smiling Assassin”, is a fascinating one. Will it find a way to work together and change the image and perception of horse racing forever, and take the sport to where it’s never gone before and, with it, bring a new generation of racing fans with them?
Right now, Joao Moreira is the most marketable personality in horse racing. He’s the total package. He presents himself to the media like no other jockey. When he talks to you, he has that ability to make you feel special. He talks passionately about horses, he comes across being unassuming and he is tremendously quotable. He’s the poor kid who’s made it good. He’s inspirational and he’s a game changer.
Photo by Wallace Wan
Besides racing fans, his other admirers include other jockeys- those currently riding and legends who have hung up their boots and have ridden against the best in the world. The great South African rider Felix Coetzee, for example, views Moreira with awe. “Wow, his balance, his ability to pop up and win from seemingly hopeless positions like the magician Houdini is something I have never seen before”, he says. “I’ve spoken to Joao a few times and would like to know him better. I would especially like to talk to him about growing up as a poor kid in São Paulo who couldn’t even afford a saddle and started riding bareback. Surely, those early years have made him the rider and man he is today?”
Coetzee isn’t the only great in the riding ranks to sing his praises. There are others who shake their heads and just say, “Unbelievable.” By riding those six winners on Sunday in Sapporo and another winner in the last on Saturday, he is said to have equalled the record of riding seven consecutive winners achieved by the legendary Japanese jockey Yutaka Take.
The fact that a foreign jockey achieved this feat has won Moreira countless fans in the racing mad country- rank and file punters plus trainers and owners like the very powerful Yoshida family. There’s the rest, and there’s Joao Moreira. Yes, great horses bring people to racetracks. And now so does the magic of Moreira. He’s a freak. No, he’s Super Freak.
Yes, Douglas Whyte with his thirteen consecutive Hong Kong Jockey Premierships was brilliant in his day. We can respect the past, but we cannot hang onto them. Times change.
At a time when horse racing desperately needs a new generation of heroes to widen its appeal, the HKJC and Joao Moreira have the opportunity to work together and finally bring the sport into the much bigger and sponsorship-driven world of global sports entertainment.
It’s about making horse racing more likeable and more accessible by making the Moreira phenomenon go mainstream instead of restricting it to just another horse racing story on horse racing websites. That’s the challenge and where the need for thinking out of the square and seeing the new Big Picture comes into play.