Joao Moreira is too good. They say the mark of a great sportsman is when they have to change the rules of the game they play because of them – think Donald Bradman and cricket, Walter Lindrum and billiards, and so on. So when do the Jockey Club start giving Moreira two pounds extra just to slow him down?
As alluded to in colleague Alan Aitken’s On The Rails column last week, local jockeys losing a two pound weight allowance after 250 winners was the least of their worries in the end. The arrival of Moreira, who weighs in at 113 pounds or perhaps even less, has also eroded the one advantage the local lads had when trying to counter the overseas invasion – being able to ride lightweight chances. The presence of top class featherweights Karis Teetan and Mirco Demuro isn’t helping much either.
The Jockey Club licensing committee has long desired diversity within the jockey roster, to break the Australian/South African stranglehold, and the current crop certainly ticks that box – although a top class Englishman wouldn’t go astray.
A list of the nationalities of winning jockeys reads like a FIFA World Cup winners – if Australia, China, South Africa or Ireland ever had a chance of winning that gong. Here’s the nationality of the last 18 winning jockeys, that is, those who won at the last two meetings: Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Brazil, Brazil, Brazil, China, France, Brazil, France, Italy, Brazil, Italy, South Africa, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Italy.
Two things jump out immediately – China, one winner, and Brazil, seven winners, and that’s one guy – that man Moreira. But even Brazil’s Samba Boys couldn’t match a strike rate of seven from 18, and even though it is not a serious suggestion that Moreira be given two pounds extra to carry, he is certainly causing mayhem, and not just for his rival jockeys.
Moreira’s strike rate is so high he is forcing professional punters to reconfigure their systems, and his effect on betting markets seems astounding. There is no way of quantifying how much effect a single jockey can have on the odds of the horse he is riding – that is, how much shorter a Moreira mount is because he is on board, compared to the price it would be if an average jockey rode it?
Let’s take a guess, judging by some of the crazy quotes his ‘lesser lights’ have gone around – 25 per cent? That’s probably conservative, and in some cases it might be more than a third. That is to say, a 15-1 chance might start single figures because of the Magic Man’s midas touch.
The thing is, Moreira seems to justify the short odds more and more, because – as they say – “horses just run for him” and he keeps winning. He has ridden 14 winners from his last 42 rides – that’s one in three.
Scary thing is, there’s probably room for improvement too. It wasn’t long ago that Moreira’s issues with careless riding charges might have scuppered his Jockeys’ Championship hopes, but after a period where he appeared to be “riding on egg shells”, he now seems to have struck a balance between flow, aggression and some sort of duty of care to his fellow riders. There’s a lot more looking both ways before Moreira crosses the road, or the field, as it were.
And as Moreira inevitably improves as he adjusts to all things Hong Kong – smog and crowded shopping malls included – could it turn out that he is even more suited to Hong Kong than Singapore?
Hong Kong racing features wide handicaps in a limited horse population,, so let’s say Moreira is two pounds better than the average Hong Kong jockey, perhaps a very conservative estimate on current form. That makes a huge difference. We are also dealing with tighter tracks, where tactics matter more and which allows one of Moreira’s best attributes comes into play – his ability to get a horse up and running out of the gates, positioning them quickly. He also seems to have got the hang of the Valley and jockeys matter more there than perhaps any track, anywhere in the world.
Moreira now has 38 winners and now trails Zac Purton by 17. He is closing that fast with trebles and four-timers galore, that he may have closed in on at least equal favouritism for the title too. Well, put it this way, you would be very nervous had you taken odds-on about Purton at any stage before now.
The Brazilian is like so many champions – even though he is completely destroying and demoralising the competition, he is doing it all with a childlike enthusiasm and smile on his face. Watch him when he wins a Class Four, it’s as though he has never won a race in his life, he is that happy. There’s obviously a steely resolve and an out-and-out assassin under the Simon the Likeable exterior, though, for Moreira is just too good to be doing this for fun.