By Hans Ebert
This Sunday’s running of the Queen Elizabeth 11 Cup- the Audemars Piguet QE11 Cup in Sha Tin-will probably go down in Hong Kong racing history- and perhaps beyond- as one of the most telling, when it comes to the back stories involved in looking at how much it might mean to the major players involved along with perhaps horse racing entertaining the technological age and where this could lead.
Especially intriguing- and perhaps quite telling- is Joao Moreira booked to ride the Japanese runner Neorealism. For the past year, there have been the same old drumbeats and smoke signals that the Magic Man will join Godolphin in Australia. There’s even a starting date been given: August 1 of this year.
Speak to Moreira, and it’s all news to him. “I have had no offers from Australia and I don’t think they want me there,” he says. Maybe. What’s hard to imagine is this brilliant horseman uprooting his young family and prepared to give up the luxury of riding twice a week- and being treated like royalty- to ride four times a week in the land Down Under on tracks like Hawkesbury and Goulburn. Add to this the thought of paying Australian taxes compared to the fifteen percent tax on earnings in Hong Kong, which has been a great magnet for many expats in every industry not wishing to move from here. The longer you stay in Hong Kong, the more you make in Hong Kong. It’s simple economics.
Joao Moreira has it all. He really has. He’s also the jockey in the world today with the best career options. And being business minded, he weighs every one up extremely carefully and never wishing to fail. It took a lot to get him to Hong Kong though it was his logical career move. Cautious would be an understatement. It adds to the measure of the man. The Magic Man from São Paulo can also be a brilliant juggler.
Moreira has made it very clear that he won’t be in Hong Kong forever, something not lost on the HKJC. Forever can be a long time, or it can be around the corner. And when Joao Moreira leaves Hong Kong, one is willing to have a sizeable wager that his next stop bet will be Japan.
Despite the racing jurisdiction’s strict rules when granting long term riding licenses to foreign jockeys, the driven and extremely savvy Brazilian would have already acquired a penchant for the very best sushi, sashimi and green tea while also taking up Japanese lessons. The one thing Moreira might have to get over is the widespread belief that most South Americans have a phobia about earthquakes. Japan has its fair share of them. Then again, has caused a few tremors of his own on racecourses around the world.
Joao Moreira arrived in style in Japan in 2015 by winning the All-Star World Series. Though his allocated rides stopped him from repeating this success last year, he went six better by riding six consecutive winners and equalling the record set by the great Japanese rider Yutake Take. His other two rides on that memorable day in Sapporo both placed. The Magic Man became close to being a Manga hero.
The hundreds of thousands of racing fans fell in love with him whereas the most powerful stables and owners watched him put on another of those Joao Shows many of us have been fortunate enough to see, and realise that this was a very very special rider. He was a freak of nature making his own Double Impact on the sport.
It’s extraordinary how this athlete saves his best for when it really matters. A win on Sunday in the QE11 Cup on the Noriyuki Hori-trained Neorealism for owners of the U Carrot Farm will be another example of great timing. It will be another addition to his already impressive Japanese portfolio. It will further his image as well as give Japanese racing an extremely marketable personality.
It will also only further strengthen his relationship with trainer Hori, below, not exactly the most open of people to the media, but regarded to be one of the most astute horse trainers in the world known for the winners he has trained for such powerful Japanese owners like Katsumi Yoshida, the eldest son of the legendary Yoshida racing dynasty.
Joao Moreira has already won the 2016 Group 1 Hong Kong Champions Mile- for Japan- and for the owner-trainer combination on Maurice.
Though it’s been Ryan Moore who has enjoyed the most success aboard this brilliant galloper, being in Hong Kong and not contracted to any stable, Joao Moreira has the luxury to pick and choose his next port of call.
Last December, Moreira downed Highland Reel to win the Longines Hong Kong International Vase aboard the Noriyuki Hori-trained Satono Crowne. Again, for Japan.
While there’s always the prestige of winning the race and the prize money involved, there’s no doubt much going on away from the prying eyes of track watchers and what’s revealed to the racing media.
The horse to beat, of course, is Werther, the winner of this race last year and Hong Kong’s reigning Horse Of The Year. Trainer John Moore is a genius at getting his runners fit and ready to win these Group 1 races.
While the 50 year old Noriyuki Hori and his team bring in aerodynamic body suits and what look like hi tech Google glasses for their track work riders to compile all kinds of data that usher in the technological age when winning races might almost become an exacting science, John Moore, 65, has gone about getting Werther primed for this race the way he always has- patiently, astutely, with all the right prep races carefully mapped out, have his track work alongside Leading City, the best lead horse in his stable, and wait for race jockey Hugh Bowman to fly into town and jump aboard a horse he knows extremely well.
Bowman, who, of course, will always be associated with the ongoing success story of the mighty mare Winx, is one of the best jockeys in the world. He says what he has to say, and, like Ryan Moore, is all about doing the talking when it matters most: After the race has been won. How long this world class rider remains in Australia is a question asked by many along with who will get the bragging rights for attracting him to move.
Whereas Joao Moreira is ebullient with an excitement that’s infectious, Hugh Bowman is all laid back confidence. We’ve seen it every time he’s asked about Winx before a race. If Clint Eastwood ever were a jockey, he would be Bowman, below in Hong Kong with former Melbourne Cup winning jockey Wayne Harris.
So, here you have Werther versus Neorealism along with the very contrasting personalities of John Moore, Noriyuki Hori, Hugh Bowman and Joao Moreira plus the future plans of each of these major players.
The QE11 Cup with a supporting cast of some very good stayers including one that might be the fly in the ointment in the enigmatic and work-in-progress Pakistan Star to be ridden by Silvestre de Sousa, looks like a two horse race, and should be a two horse race, but there’s much more riding here.
Apart from being an intriguing and tactical race despite only eight runners, this year’s Audemars Piguet QE11 Cup promises to be a battle of wits, very contrasting preparations for the two major chances in the race, two world class riders perhaps looking for new challenges, and an insight into where their next career move might be.
They might be a changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, but we could also be seeing the changes taking place in horse racing and a glimpse into what might be a hi tech future.
We recently mentioned that horse racing desperately needs something to blow the cobwebs away and ring in the new. This Sunday at Sha Tin, and everything that’s up for grabs, might just might get things rolling.