How great was it to see rival jockey Karis Teetan produce a champagne dousing for Joao Moreira after his eighth winner on Sunday, not just as a piece of sportsmanship but as a type of recognition of what the Magic Man does for racing as a sport?
Think Lionel Messi, think Tiger Woods at his peak, think Roger Federer or Usain Bolt. The kind of performers who give their entire sport a lift when they do something incredible, and they do it often enough that even the anticipationgives their game a glow.
For racing, Moreira is the nearest thing the sport has had to Frankie Dettori since, well, Frankie Dettori.
Even if Frankie hasn’t finished yet, he’s probably happy to hand overthe baton for putting a likeable and exceptional face on racing after carrying it for 20 years.
You can argue until you’re a deep shade of purple about who is the world’s best jockey in the saddle, but Ryan Moore is never going to be the face of unbridled joy, while Moreira makes Old King Cole look a curmudgeon.
He is a positive and charismatic individual as well as a great jockey, somethingyou cannot say about many great jockeys – not a design fault in them as much as an unusual feature of Moreira.
And all jockeys, everyone in racing, gets some reflected glory and positive enhancement from someone like Moreira.
In the wake of his swashbuckling deeds on Sunday,
we asked the obligatory “what makes Joao so good” question of a handful of trainers, but it’s pi to a billion places. Searching for the secret to Joao Moreira, that’s where you end up. Pretty much the answer we got from John Size, now that we think about it.
Why is the Magic Man so good? And any detractors, he is that good.
When Douglas Whyte won a century of races in a season for the first time and streeted the next best, we thought that was dominance. There were 700 races in that season; there will be about 130 or so more this season and everyone is looking at Moreiragiving 200 wins a nudge – yes, winning a century plus most of the races added in the past 13 years.
Well, Moreira’s balance is fantastic but all jockeys of a decent standard have good balance or they’d fall off all the time.
Derek Leung Ka-chun showed off some pretty good balance on a horse in Auckland on Saturday that was trying to get rid of him and couldn’t. Balance is integral to the job, but will only get you part of the way there.
Moreira is light so he gets a lot of rides and has a wide choice but he isn’t the only light jockey around. Light just gets you in the cast, it can’t read your lines.
His hands. People who might not pay much attention to racing or races and read about a jockey’s wonderful hands might wonder if it’s about the size or shape or texture, and whether there’s a hand-modelling career awaiting when riding is finished.
But hands are all about the voice. Hands are the communication device between the jockey and his horse. Some hands are seductive and coaxing, like a Barry White song, while others are like pumping out screeching death metal.
And “smooth” rides along with the good hands – it’s like the difference between that taxi you hailedand the driver was on the accelerator or the brake the whole way, but at no stage left both of them untouched.
Compare him with the driver who just went along at a good even, Goldilocks speed, neither too fast nor too slow, as either can be a problem. Smooth means rhythm, smooth means horses can breathe, which helps.
But there are other jockeys, a few anyway, who manage that.
One of the keys to Moreira, we think, is that he is so often keeping a horse’s attention in running, moving his hands, doing this and that, and just keeping them aware that something’s going on.
The vast majority of even good standard jockeys are passengers, who jump, position, then sit there, along for the ride and letting the horse doze off until they come to the straight.
Particularly with lesser horses, and also some better ones, keeping them focused on being in a race can be the difference between winning and losing. It’s a fine line between getting them to relax and still keeping them awake.
And this goes along with Moreira changing their lead legs during races to even out the fatigue. When a top jockey himself, Michael Rodd, talked about Moreira’s talent at this on Australian radio a couple of years back, it caught fire.
Yes, one of the parts of being a jockey that punters and fans don’t even think about is horses changing leads. To jockeys, it’s an everyday part of their trade but a refined skill in the very best.
And there’s his feel for speed, for how fast they are going, and only the best jockeys really show off this quality on a regular basis.
Moreira produced one example of what not to do last season, on Love Shock, but it lines up against hundreds of examples on the other side of the ledger.
And Win Number Eight on Sunday was just that. As the leaders hurtled through the early splits, Moreira sat back off them on a horse expected to be near the lead, albeit a horse who probably couldn’t have been up there if he had thrown a kitchen sink at it, considering how fast they were going.
But then he did the thing that not many do, and that Moreira does regularly – he produced his tactics by the pace of the race, not the geography of the track.
Another jockey might also have thought the leaders were going too fast, and stayed back where they were, knowing the leaders would weaken in the home straight.
The winning of Prawn Baba’s race might have happened under that ride, too, but he would have arrived on the line in a desperate finish.
But Moreira sent his horse forward into the race as soon as the leaders eased off the throttle and decided it was time for a rest, making up the deficit on them without increasing his own speed, and that’s where the ease of the win at the finish came from.
And what makes Moreira great is the chemistry of those talents. All top jockeys have some, even most of them, but when you have them all and mix it with a bright, positive personality (unlike the dominant jockey in most centres, large or small, he is actually liked by his rivals) you get a performer who is rare and fantastic for racing, and everyone in it gets a piece of that.