Joao Moreira said his shock decision to jump off Group One winner Peniaphobia to ride rising star Thewizardofoz in next month’s Chairman’s Sprint Prize at Sha Tin isn’t just a forward-thinking strategy – he believes he can win the HK$10 million feature on May 1.
Experts and fans alike assumed Moreira would stick with Tony Cruz-trained speedster Peniaphobia, a horse he has ridden in six starts this season, but after the in-demand jockey trialled Thewizardofoz last Friday he confirmed his booking with that horse’s trainer John Size.
“It wasn’t just his trial, which was fantastic, it was a decision based on the horse’s previous wins and how high an opinion I have of Thewizardofoz,” Moreira said. “He is a young, progressive type of horse going forward and I think he is the type of horse we are going to have a lot of fun with in the future.”
Although Moreira labelled Thewizardofoz “a horse of the future”, he maintained the four-year-old was still the best horse to ride in the short-term as well even against a crack field that will include not only the best local sprinters, but visiting Australian stars Chautauqua and Buffering.
“Of course I think Thewizardofoz has Group One potential, I’ve always felt that way – this race could be when he proves it, but next season he is going to be one of the best sprinters around. Still, he is the horse to beat in this race.”
The Brazilian jockey won the 2015 Hong Kong Sprint on Peniaphobia and was third aboard the five-year-old in the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai last month, but Moreira refused to be drawn on whether he felt Cruz’s horse – who has won just one of his last nine starts – was 100 per cent leading into the Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
“I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had on Peniaphobia,” he said, adding that he was unsure at one stage whether the horse would continue on this season, and that had been a factor in his decision. “To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether he would be running, the horse is still in quarantine at Sha Tin and I was actually a little surprised he was entered.”
Thewizardofoz won three from three last season to be named champion griffin and with bloodlines that suggested he would handle a mile or further, he was aimed at the 2016 four-year-old series.
A couple of defeats to start the season at 1,400m and then a failure in the Classic Mile convinced Size to abort the horse’s Hong Kong Derby preparation.
Since then the son of Redoute’s Choice was an impressive winner in the Chinese New Year Cup at 1,400m and seems to have recovered well from a swollen leg and elevated temperature that caused the horse’s withdrawal from his intended open age Group One debut in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup in late February.
“We tried to stretch him in distance, but it clearly didn’t work out, and fortunately John realised that and put him away for a few weeks,” Moreira said. “Not every race he has run this season has been outstanding, but when he was beaten, he hasn’t been bad either – there was always a reason.
"At a mile against Sun Jewellery he was stuck behind the wrong horse, it dragged me back and he started pulling hard – he was burning his oil up early.
"The other two losses were against nice horses and he was only narrowly beaten, both times we were stretching him to 1,400m and trying to see how good he was over a longer distance. After all of that we have realised that sprinting is going to be best for him and it looks like John is going to stick with that.”
In other news, Hong Kong Vase third Dariyan was withdrawn from the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup yesterday, while Australian mare Suavito and local four-year-old Blizzard came out of the Champions Mile. None of the three were replaced in their respective races, but Me Tsui Yu-sak's Divine Boy will replace David Hall-trained Rad in the Chairman's Sprint Prize.