Moreira's magic turns championship on its head … again!
Little wonder Joao Moreira earned the nickname “the Magic Man” as on Wednesday night he seemed to stun even himself as he re-ignited the jockeys’ championship with a four-timer that relegated Zac Purton to runner-up on all four occasions. Now it seems only the under-scrutiny stewards stand in the way of the somewhat wayward Brazilian mounting a serious challenge to Purton claiming his holy grail.
As Purton went on his own winning surge, Moreira had been cooling his heels on the sideline, serving back-to-back three-meeting bans for careless riding and watching winners he would have been on; wondering all the while whether he would still have the magic when he returned.
“People say it takes time when you come back from a break like that, to get things to click back into place, but tonight it just happened right away,” he said. Well, things clicked all right – straight up in race one and they only got better from there.
Three weeks ago, just as Moreira was about to serve his six-meeting stretch, we framed a market on the championship and had Purton 1.9, Douglas Whyte 2.9, and Moreira 3.3.
If this market were real, and opinions expressed on social media were actual money, firstly there would be a lot of poor idiots, and secondly, Purton and Whyte would have been our big hypothetical firmers.
We heard from no one who said they thought Moreira was too big a price – out of sight, out of mind, I guess. As Purton’s win total nearly doubled that of his nearest rival, which wasn’t even Whyte, his supporters wanted the 1.9.
But plenty of old-timers, conditioned to Whyte’s magnificence and traditional mid-season to late-season dominance were eager to be on at the 2.9. So the market would have adjusted accordingly and Moreira was the one drifting in betting big time.
But it’s amazing how one meeting can change the whole vibe – we had quickly been lulled into a belief that the only thing that could stop Purton was injury or lengthy suspension. Pre-Moreira’s suspensions, there had been an electricity around him as he seemed to be on every second race favourite (it was actually more like one in 4.5, but he was winning on 45 per cent of them).
Whatever momentum was slowed by the six-meeting suspension, it was regained in a heartbeat on Wednesday night. We saw an example of the 30-year-old’s uncanny knack of putting together multiple wins, like the astonishing eight-timer he delivered in his Singapore farewell in September. Moreira is already a darling with owners and trainers and nights like on Wednesday won’t slow the rides being hurled at him from all directions.
As well as a reputation for getting on unstoppable hot streaks, Moreira was also renowned for revitalising old and/or just plain out-of-form horses. Well Joao, you’ve come to the right place.
Purton’s lead is substantial, but not insurmountable. He has 44 winners, to Whyte’s 23 with Moreira on 18 (he is still fifth, but will undoubtedly go past Olivier Doleuze and Tye Angland soon).
There are still 59 meetings to go. What could stop Moreira more than anything is trouble with the stipes. He was in hot water again on Wednesday night and received a reprimand. These things build up and his next reprimand could mean another three days. Meanwhile, Purton tippy-toed through 150-incident free rides and qualified for the good behaviour clause that means his next suspension is only worth two days.
While on the subject of stewards deliberating over careless riding charges and jockeys’ championship contenders – what of the hearing into the Longines Hong Kong Sprint fall?
Many readers pointed the finger at Whyte for the unfortunate crash that killed Jwala and put Steve Drowne in hospital with a broken collarbone (interesting to note that the Hong Kong Jockey Club had removed the graphic patrol footage from its website, from the moment before Jwala falls).
A head-on photo just before Jwala (green, orange, checked cap) falls shows Douglas Whyte on Charles The Great being forced onto the Nunthorpe Stakes winner. Photo: Kenneth Chan
Stewards found no individual jockey was to blame for the incident and it was rather a series of interrelated events that led to the English filly clipping heels and crashing to the ground.
Let’s not get into the detailed “x’s and o’s” of how the fall happened – we would need a projector screen and pointer stick. Nor will we debate whether Whyte should have been suspended – the referee has made his decision, play on.
But, a few thoughts. Stewards' rooms are not the place for knee-jerk, emotional reactions. If a horse dies, and a jockey is in hospital, it doesn’t necessarily mean someone has to spend a long stretch on the sidelines, despite human nature demanding someone “hangs” for it, an eye-for-an-eye and all of that.
Yes, the punishment should fit the crime. But the crime stewards are deliberating on isn’t “killing a horse and putting a jockey in hospital” – it’s Rule 100 (1), that is, whether a jockey’s riding was foul, dangerous, improper, reckless, incompetent or careless.
Consequences matter, but they aren’t the point. Was Whyte’s riding worse than Ryan Moore’s in the International Jockeys’ Championship? We think not, it’s just that the circumstances, and clearly the consequences, were.
After canvassing a few perspectives on Wednesday, opinions were divided, but it was interesting to note that those who had spent time on the other side of the fence riding – former jockeys – had less issue with the “no individual jockey to blame” verdict. “He took a gap, and once there what could Douglas do?” one said. “If you start backing out at that point and stop riding, that is when you do get on heels and fall yourself.”
On Whyte’s championship chances, well, theoretically and mathematically they are still well and truly alive. But in reality, unless John Size wants to put the band back together then the Durban Demon’s hopes are less than slim.
When Whyte and Size shared an emotional embrace after Glorious Days won the Hong Kong Mile on Sunday you could almost hear Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You playing in the background and a collective “awww” from the crowd. Some speculated the win would be the catalyst for Size to go back to supplying Whyte with a production line of winners.
That movie-ending moment on Sunday was short-lived though – Size has six runners at Sha Tin this Sunday and Whyte’s on none of them, the master trainer giving three key rides to Moreira. The elephant in the room – the “What’s going on with Whyte and Size?” one – has only grown bigger.
Usually the passing of International Day signals a mini-comedown as we get back to the Wednesday-Sunday-Wednesday-Sunday grind until the January features, but this season there’s plenty to keep us interested. Not least of all this three-way jockeys’ duel that could change complexion in an instant and come down to a moment of magic.