Even the seemingly boundless optimism of champion jockey Joao Moreira was dented after the draw for the Longines International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley left the Brazilian star with an uphill battle.
Moreira, a past winner of the IJC in 2012 when he was based in Singapore, saw his prospects of winning as the local champion take a hit when he pulled St Yazin, Good Choice, Aeroluminance and Choice Treasure in the random draw, but his sense of politics remained intact as he stopped short of declaring he couldn’t win.
“Of course, I will try my best to win as always but, let me put it this way, I think that some other jockeys have better overall rides,” Moreira said after the draw.
Which other jockeys they might be was the question on all lips after the draw, with a number of riders having one or two nice mounts but no rider looking to have a full hand.
Since the series went to a four-race format six years ago, only Kerrin McEvoy in 2013 has won the prize without winning two of the legs, with a win and a second enough to see him scrape home in a tight finish over Zac Purton and Christophe Soumillon.
Australia’s Hugh Bowman looked to have been well served by the draw with Premiere, Kiram and Super Fluke looking three winning possibilities from his four mounts, while first time IJC combatant American-based Florent Geroux also looked to draw well.
Geroux kicks off with a tricky wide draw on Secret Agent in the opener, but then climbs aboard winning chances in consistent Sparkling Sword, John Size’s improving Works Of Art and veteran Royal Partner for “Valley king” Caspar Fownes, an eight-year-old in good form who has an ideal barrier three start.
Defending champion, South African Gavin Lerena also kept alive his chance of winning back-to-back, with winning hopes on Happy And Healthy for David Hall and Graceful Kingdom for Ricky Yiu Poon-fai, while the David Ferraris-trained Nitro Express is in good form if Lerena can overcome the nine barrier in the final leg.
Ryan Moore will be confirmed as the winner of the Longines World’s Best Jockey title for 2016 at a function on Friday night in Hong Kong, and is a dual IJC winner and a chance to score again but he will have to make his two good mounts stick.
He came up with a winning hope on Giant Turtle for Tony Millard and a key mount for John Moore on Beauty Prince in the final leg.
“Beauty Prince is a great ride for Ryan and I’m happy to get him too because I always want someone in these jockey draws who knows their way around Happy Valley and has ridden winners there,” Moore said.
“Pat Smullen is on my other runner in the series, Team Sweet, but Pat has the job ahead – this is a horse who gets back and has drawn wide, so he’s going to probably settle down last.”
Top Chinese rider, Derek Leung Ka-chun returned with a winner on Sunday when he resumed from head injuries suffered in a scary incident at Sha Tin last month, and plucked a good ride for Chris So Wai-yin in Wednesday night’s series with last-start winner Win It.
However he also felt the flip side of fortune when he drew the booby prize ride of the series on Je Pense, who will start one of the longest priced runners all night at the Valley.
“Win It is in good form, he has a good barrier – they are very even races but he must be a chance,” said Leung.
The series will be decided on a points basis, with 12 points for a win, six for a second and four for third, with fourth placings acting only as tie-breakers and winning rider on accumulated points will carry off the HK$500,000 first prize.