Championship-leading jockey Joao Moreira is riding at the peak of his powers with 51 wins this term – 20 clear of his nearest rival – and this Sunday (13 December) at Sha Tin the Brazilian ace will leave no stone unturned in his bid to replicate the heroics which saw him capture two of last year’s four Group 1 contests at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races.
“It’s once a year only and even more it’s special now as we can’t travel for other international races so we, as jockeys, have to make sure we do our job at home the best we can,” Moreira said.
Not only he is striving for Group 1 glory, he is also only four wins away from becoming the third jockey in Hong Kong history to record 1,000 wins after Douglas Whyte and Zac Purton. A phenomenal achievement, especially with only eight seasons under his belt.
“The trainers that are willing to support me have had a good start – that contributes to me also having a good start,” Moreira said.
A humble Moreira puts his fast-start to the 2020/21 Hong Kong racing season down to good fortune, rather than his sublime exploits on the track that have earned him the nickname the “Magic Man”.
“If you’re lucky enough to be around the people in form then you’ll be in form as well and that’s what has happened to me,” Moreira said.
Glory Vase took last year’s Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m), while Beat The Clock sealed Moreira’s pair with a thrilling success in the Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m), and Waikuku finished just half a length away from the Brazilian snaring a third.
“I remember that I was quite confident about Glory Vase, because of the feeling he gave me on Thursday when I galloped him, and I thought this horse is ready and he’s likely to be a really good chance based on his form from Japan.
“The big day came, he got there and got a smooth run, he got himself turning for home a little bit tight but once the room came, he just went for it and I knew I had the race run with 300 metres to go so no doubt the memory was great – it’s a day to remember forever,” Moreira said.
Looking forward to three days’ time, Moreira will kick off his Group 1 rides aboard the Caspar Fownes-trained Columbus County in the HK$20 million Hong Kong Vase.
“He ran well the other day, I think if I can get him to switch off then he’ll be able to run the distance no problem,” Moreira said.
The talented five-year-old was one of the leading protagonists for last season’s Four-Year-Old Classic Series, but this term has returned a solid Class 2 win first-up before stepping up steeply in grade to finish third in the Group 2 Jockey Club Cup (2000m) last time out.
“His run last time was quite impressive, he’s very likely to repeat that and he’s capable of being right there among the top three in the finish and with a little bit of luck in the small field – you never know,” Moreira said.
The pair will break from gate one against six others, including Exultant in barrier five and Coolmore’s Mogul in barrier four.
The Brazilian ace will rely on the consistency of the grey, Hot King Prawn in the HK$22 million LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m).
“He’s so consistent and he’s had a great preparation this term, he’s no doubt another horse that I am quite excited about,” Moreira said.
The John Size-trainee doesn’t know how to run a bad race, finishing outside of the top three only three times from 21 starts, but he is yet to snare that elusive Group 1 title after placing at the top-level three times.
“He’s very consistent, that’s the kind of horse that you dream to have, unfortunately he hasn’t won a Group 1 as of yet, but it might be this term,” Moreira said.
Moreira and the grey will depart from gate five against 13 opponents, including Classique Legend, who sets off from barrier one.
Two races later, the 37-year-old will hop atop another of John Size’s hopefuls, Waikuku, who is looking to emulate the first-up 2013 Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile win of Glorious Days, also trained by Size.
“The thing about him is that he likes to be fresh and he’s going to be fresh going into the race – his form shows that – I have won on him first-up in the past – he likes to be that way,” Moreira said.
The talented miler won the Group 1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) in January, the first Group 1 race that follows the Hong Kong International Races, when beating Beauty Generation by a neck.
But Moreira, who dethroned Beauty Generation last term, was only fair about his chances of a similar scenario against Golden Sixty.
“Winning is a different story – Golden Sixty seems a star so it might be a bit difficult but whatever he does this time we know next time he’s going to bring what he’s got best, which might be due one,” he said.
Waikuku will break from gate five, while likely favourite Golden Sixty sets off from stall seven.
Furore completes Moreira’s quartet across the Group 1s in the richest race on the programme, the HK$28 million Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m).
The New Zealand-bred is a two-time winner at Pattern race level this term after switching stables last season, firstly winning the Group 3 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Handicap (1800m) before overhauling last season’s Horse of The Year, Exultant, in last month’s Group 2 Jockey Club Cup (2000m).
“I think his chances are great – he did surprise me how he won last time and if he brings this form he’s going to be one of the horses to beat,” Moreira said.
Moreira and the Tony Cruz-trained gelding will break from gate five against seven others, while last year’s victor Win Bright sets off from stall eight.
With nine chances on the card, the landmark 1000th Hong Kong win is not out of reach, especially for a man who has ridden three or more winners in a single day this season 10 times already.
“My rides are not bad, I have rides in all four races and it seems like some of them have a really good chance, they might even be favourite – Hot King Prawn might be, as well as Furore.
“But no doubt they are strong races and it’s a day where you want to deliver, perform and you want to make sure you don’t make mistakes – that can cost you races and these are the type of races that you really don’t want to miss,” Moreira said.
Moreira will also partner last-start winner Chevalier Prince in the Class 3 Flintshire Handicap (1800m), as well as Sky Field in the Class 2 Lord Kanaloa Handicap (1200m).