Joao Moreira’s ever-so-slightly non-committal response to the question of whether or not dominant Classic Mile winner Rapper Dragon was his Derby ride was revealing.
Not only revealing for how much pull the leading rider has, but for just how much water there still is to flow under the bridge between now and the BMW Hong Kong Derby on March 19.
At the post-race press conference Moreira said Rapper Dragon “should”, not definitely, not even probably, but “should” be his Derby ride – and this after Rapper Dragon left absolutely no doubt who right now is the best four-year-old in town.
Right now are the key words though. The Classic Mile is a good test, but the Hong Kong Derby it is not, and recent history says the winner of the Derby was running home behind Rapper Dragon, or not in the race at all.
Just three Classic Mile winners in the last 24 years have gone on to win the big one, and none since Helene Mascot in 2008.
Moreira’s own experience has taught him to choose carefully – the Brazilian has won nearly everything in his whirlwind three years at Sha Tin, but the Derby has eluded him.
In 2014, Able Friend, with Moreira aboard, won the Classic Mile in a similar manner to Rapper Dragon, exceeding already high expectations as he cruised away as short-priced favourite.
Chasing home in second was stablemate Designs On Rome, who then upset Able Friend over 1,800m in the next race of the four-year-old series with the help of an all-time great tactical ride from Tommy Berry.
Legend has it that Moreira asked Moore for the ride on Designs On Rome before the Derby – while Berry was standing next to him in the trainers’ stand, no less.
Just on that, asking for a ride while the rider is there are tactics which might seem a little, ah, forward, but hey, to Moreira’s credit, at least he didn’t go behind Berry’s back.
Anyway, Moore stuck with Berry and the Derby was his, although Moreira still won on international day aboard both horses later in the year, the Hong Kong Mile on Able Friend and the Hong Kong Cup on Designs On Rome, so don’t feel too bad for him.
There was plenty to like about the horses running on behind Rapper Dragon – Danny Shum Chap-shing’s Seasons Bloom is clearly on the way up, but even with a likely 10-point hike for the effort, is still way behind Rapper Dragon in terms of ratings.
Whatever happens next start, Moreira won’t be getting on Moore’s third-placegetter, Beauty Generation, with Zac Purton welded to the saddle through his strong association with the Kwok family.
Although maybe Moreira has his eyes on a different horse, Dinozzo, who won impressively over 1,800m on Sunday and whom Moreira later labelled a possible Derby winner.
Regardless of history or options, Rapper Dragon is still the no brainer decision for the best Derby ride, but you couldn’t help but notice that Moreira was more than a little relieved the horse had won.
The early part of Rapper Dragon’s preparation this season was a disaster, and maybe in the back of Moreira’s mind was his decision to stick with Thewizardofoz in last year’s Classic Mile.
Thewizardofoz failed, badly, and a Moore-trained horse Moreira had ridden at the trials, Werther, progressed through to win the Derby for fly-in jockey Hugh Bowman and then took Horse of the Year honours with victory in the Group One Audemars Piguet QEII Cup.
Rapper Dragon (ex Street Rapper) soars in $10m HK Classic Mile from Seasons Bloom (ex Le Capitaine) & Beauty Generation (ex Montaigne) pic.twitter.com/yRVF2tZcrS— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 22, 2017
Moreira ended up on Giovanni Canaletto, who ran on for third, and in 2015 he rode the Derby favourite Redkirk Warrior, who finished 11th behind Luger.
Some of the “keeping options open” attitude simply speaks to the privileged position Moreira finds himself in, that he can still be taking it one race at a time after such a comprehensive win.
But maybe he has learnt the hard way that it is difficult to find a Derby winner.
“I’m happy to be on him at his next run, and at this stage it would be very hard for me to say, ‘I’m not riding him the Derby’,” Moreira said later.
“I made a commitment to John to ride him in this race, he did what we wanted and won today so I will definitely ride him in the next race.”
Even though Moreira claims decision-making is the highest pressure aspect of his position as two-time defending champion, he seems to think Rapper Dragon will make the Derby decision for him in the Classic Cup one month from now.
“I’m convinced he will run a good race again, and then if that happened why would I get off to ride something else in the Derby?”