How do you solve a problem like Moreira?
What are we going to do with Joao? Short of sports psychology and putting rear vision mirrors on his runners – how do we stop the Brazilian being slapped with careless riding suspensions? And worst of all – could the constant breaches of Rule 100 (1), and spiraling fines that go along with them, cause the Magic Man to pull a vanishing act on Hong Kong?
And what is actually more astonishing: Joao Moreira’s astronomical win strike rate? Or his suspension strike rate? Or the fact that he can keep winning despite the disruption of spending half his time here on the sidelines. He has now been outed five times by stewards – a total of 15 meetings – for careless riding since arriving in October last year.
Of course, a massive win tally and trouble with stewards for knocking people down aren’t always unrelated events – often the former is a precursor to the latter, as it was on Wednesday.
Is Moreira too desperate? Does his competitiveness just take hold and leave him a single-minded man possessed?
He certainly isn’t as ruthless as some we have seen when it comes to winning at all costs. For one thing, he certainly shouldn’t be, as the name of the charge implies, careless. For a start, it’s getting too costly for him to not care. Under the new structure of careless riding penalties for repeat offenders, Moreira copped a HK$60,000 fine to go along with his three-meeting holiday for shaving off a bit close when crossing to lead on eventual winner Bundle Of Joy at Happy Valley on Wednesday.
That’s a fair dent in expenses when taking a lay-off in Cebu or Phuket, so even if you want to enjoy your suspension on a sun-drenched beach, $60,000 buys a lot of Pina Coladas and foot rubs while you are there.
Moreira poured his heart out back in December after a day when he had a double but got time again. He even questioned whether he was suited to riding in the tight confines of Sha Tin and Happy Valley, where fields pack into turns tighter than passengers into a peak hour train on the Tsuen Wan MTR line.
“I was thinking about it throughout the day, does this mean that my riding style doesn’t fit Hong Kong racing? I don’t know. I am going out there and trying to win, but I just can’t keep the horses going straight right now,” he said.
“I have to sit back, re-think and see how I can fit in here. I’m not doing the right things, I can’t be blaming the club, and obviously I can’t be blaming the stewards. I don’t know, maybe I am trying too hard? Getting warned all of the time isn’t nice.”
The 30-year-old has had more than three months of introspection since, but has again copped the wrath of chief stipe Kim Kelly since then.
After the early run-ins with stewards it seemed Moreira’s constant visits to the stewards’ room had him walking, or should that be riding, on eggshells – over-reacting and getting into more trouble. In recent times it looked like he was getting things right.
Wednesday night’s infringement was, in fairness, a pretty indisputable case of careless riding – textbook stuff for stewards to dish out some damage.
Something that won’t sway the forthright Kelly is the fact that under the structure Moreira’s fines will just keep going up, and perhaps make it more likely that Moreira will leave for greener pastures.
At least the Hong Kong Jockey Club is a charity and the money goes to a good cause, not Pina Coladas. The money gained is almost as much of a boost to the bottom line as Moreira’s turnover-inspiring love affair with punters.
But at what point does Moreira pack up and go back to riding half the winners in Singapore every year, or take a rich retainer in Europe or Australia?
Our bet is that Moreira works things out in his own way, and won’t leave until he has conquered his personal Everest – both inside and outside the stewards’ room.