By Hans Ebert
“Right now, he’s doing a good job of getting suspended.” That line is probably heading the leaderboard as Hong Kong racing’s Quote of the Season and attributed to Zac Purton when asked if he felt he had a realistic chance of winning the the Jockey Premiership this season by beating Joao Moreira. A typical flippant Purton sound bite or a bit of psychological warfare? Whatever the answer, it all adds to the entertainment value of what’s going on.
Yes, the Zac Attack can’t ride as light as Joao Moreira, and can’t get on as many horses as he would like, but he’s totally in the zone. He’s coolness personified, and, unlike the last few seasons where it’s been all about the one man Magic Show, the playing field certainly looks to have levelled out. Zac Purton is right: As long as Joao Moreira keeps getting suspended- and Lady Luck deserts him- not only is he in with a very loud shout to win the Premiership, but Nash Rawiller and Karis Teetan could also be nipping gently at Moreira’s heels. But only a very stupid person would be writing off the “smiling assassin” that is Joao Moreira.
It’s been a strange old new season so far with no one sure when the writers will be ready to hand in the final script. There are so many rewrites taking place. Every race meeting something happens to change the picture. The one constant has been Zac Purton who just carries on riding winners. On Sunday, he rode a treble and galloped off with another Jockey Challenge. The story coming together is fascinating stuff.
Leading the Trainers table, meanwhile, at least for the moment, is the newly licensed Frankie Lor. Despite being one of the more unfashionable local jockeys who made even the riding “style” of WH “Rambo” Tse look almost majestic, Frankie Lor, having learnt much from his years with John Size, also understands how to make the most out of being Flavour Of The Season.
Whatever he’s doing, he’s doing it right and his incredible success rate backs this up. And with those owners, especially with horses in the lower classes known for changing stables more often than they change mistresses, Frankie Lor is not just good feng shui, he’s their new Magic Man.
Behind him are other local trainers Chris So and Me Tsui whereas Michael Freedman is settling into Hong Kong very nicely, thank you. The powerhouse stables of the two Johns- Moore and Size- are still to really kick in, but Size, with a training treble on Sunday is suddenly starting to matter, which is always an ominous sign for other trainers.
Meanwhile, it’s now November and Tommy Berry, the latest stable rider for John Moore, must be wondering how long it will be before everything starts to click and helps him add to his current tally of three winners.
There’s the good and the not so good sides about being saddled to one major stable. It restricts one’s opportunities to widen that support net, but it does help when it comes to riding some of the best horses in Hong Kong. Sometimes. In case anyone was wondering, the very impressive galloper that raced as Lina’s Hero when trained in Australia by Tony Vasil has been sold to Hong Kong for what some say is HK$15 million though others say it was half that cost. Still, that’s quite a few dim sum and with the Lina’s Hero, below, going to Richard Gibson.
Other than the actual horse racing, what many in Hong Kong are following are the various goings on in the Jockeys standings- Purton versus Moreira, the emergence of Teetan as an in-demand rider though losing more than a few points on Sunday by book ending the meeting by being beaten on two piping hot favourites, and that other battle taking place between Derek Leung and Matthew Poon to win the coveted Tony Cruz Award given to the most successful local rider. The Poon Train is leading this particular race right now, but one has to wonder if that initial express to success might have stalled.
Derek Leung continues to ride consistently well and delivers. Just ask John Moore for whom he has ridden and won on Beauty Generation twice- and in Group races.
For the HKJC, all this should be a marketing dream. Even the most hardcore punter follows these stories and, perhaps even without realising it, often factor these into their homework. For the casual race goer, it adds another level of interest to the racing at Sha Tin, which one doubts has ever really been marketed. It’s all been something of a corporate press release except when Longines International Week rolls on and gongs are banged like a T Rex track and there’s the usual on course entertainment for those visitors to Hong Kong.
The rest of the time? Other than some tweets to their tweeps by the usual suspects, some WeChatting and news on that smorgasbord that is the HKJC website, there’s nothing much “out there” when it comes to branding the racing in Sha Tin.
Returning to these back stories, Joao Moreira is not just the Magic Man. Like that Sade song, he’s a smooth operator who plays his cards very close to his chest. Outwardly, he’s everyone’s friend giving that famous thumbs up sign of his. To some, he might be going through a bit of lull. Others, however, believe he’s been internalising and focused on two things- winning the Melbourne Cup on that first Tuesday in November, which might not be just wishful thinking that many seem to think it is when he partners Thomas Hobson in the race tomorrow, and then dominating the Hong Kong International Races in December probably aboard the Japanese raiders usually owned by the powerful Yoshida family. After that? Well, that’s a long time away and when the final script might still be going through rewrites.
It also can’t be easy for this brilliant Brazilian horseman to follow the exploits of Hughie Bowman and Winx from the sidelines.
Let’s not forget that Joao Moreira rode the Chris Waller-trained Winx before Bowman became the mighty mare’s regular rider. This was in 2015 when Winx as the 9/5 favourite came second to 16 to 1 Gust Of Wind in the Australian Oaks on a wet track- the last time she was beaten. Not being part of this incredible ride must be weighing on Moreira’s mind.
So close, yet so far and Joao Moreira must desperately want his own wonder horse. If you were Joao Moreira, you wouldn’t be thinking along the same lines? Of course, you would. Instead of the usual pop-up stories that once happened with yawning regularity about offers from Godolphin in Australia, who knows how close Joao Moreira would have come to riding for Team Waller if he had won on Winx?
So, though not dominating Hong Kong racing as in previous seasons, don’t think he’s lost his magical powers. His ride last Wednesday to win on Red Marvel was bloody marvellous to watch as was the ease on Sunday in which he had first starter Conte bounce out and up on the speed from barrier 12 in what was a winning move.
For Joao Moreira, it just might mean a shift in priorities and looking at rebuilding his brand by winning those races that matter, especially in Australia, where his image as a world class rider has taken quite a beating in the last year with almost all those flying raids to the land Down Under crashing and burning and the magic powers going poof.
Those one-time popular hit and run raids to Australia by all Hong Kong based riders have, in recent times, yielded little or no fruit. How the HKJC handles this situation without hampering the career opportunities of riders, but still ensuring that Hong Kong owners don’t feel as if they’re being short-changed might require the Wisdom of Solomon. Limiting these overseas raids to ride no-hopers could be one option. Or the HKJC might not have to do a thing. Often it comes down to supply and demand.
As one Sydney-based rider recently put it, “Look at the riding talent we have here- Hughie, Blake Shinn, Brenton Avdulla, Damien Lane, Timmy Clark, Kerrin McEvoy and all the upcoming young guns. Nothing against Hong Kong based riders, but what message does this send to us here by flying them in? That we’re not good enough?” Hmmmm.
Getting back to Hong Kong, with perhaps this being their last season of riding in Hong Kong for Olivier Doleuze and the legendary Douglas Whyte with a record thirteen consecutive premiership titles to his portfolio and legacy, and probably hoping to bow out on a winning note aboard Scales Of Justice in a Group 1 race in Perth, this could be the Season Of Change for Hong Kong racing.
With an eye towards the future, there’s always Sammy Clipperton who can easily hold his own with anyone here and has youth on his side as do Karis Teetan and Chad Schofield. And with the first phase of the Conghua Training Facilities taking place next year and a few obstacles between Hong Kong, which, let’s not forget is part of China, and Australia to overcome, there’s much to look forward to- not one-off gimmick races, but sustainability by being a game changer without resorting to self-indulgent chest pounding. You know what they say about speaking softly…
#HKRacing #HKJC #JoaoMoreira #ZacPurton #KarisTeetan #DerekLeung #FrankieLor #JohnSize #Winx #ChrisWaller #ConghuaTrainingFacility