Joao Moreira owns a lot of race days at Sha Tin but not many have carried his footprint as heavily as Audemars Piguet QE II Cup day 2017 after the Brazilian wizard ripped through half the card and provided one of the signature moments of the season to purloin the feature for Japan with Neorealism.
The Jockey Club had a record turnover figure for QE II Cup day as HK$1.43 billion rolled through the windows – up 6.5 per cent on 2016 – and a well-sunned crowd of 33,000 that was the best in six years got a ringside seat to one of the great rides.
Moreira has formed a powerful partnership with the rising tide of Japan’s top racehorses and trainers, winning the joint-richest race in the world on turf last month aboard Vivlos, after taking the Champions Mile and Hong Kong Vase for Neorealism’s trainer Noriyuki Hori last year.
The QE II Cup turned out a record low number of runners, just eight, and the race was always going to be a tactical battle but it turned into a tactical tour de force from Moreira as he took off around the field to gain control at the 800m and then ran his rivals off their legs from there.
In December, Hori had brought Neorealism for the Hong Kong Mile but the horse didn’t quite adapt to the change of environment and finished in the ruck, but he said the horse had learned from that experience and presented in better condition this time, and gave the land of the rising sun a fourth QE II and Moreira a first.
“When you win a race like this for the first time, it is always special,” said Moreira, who, in little more than three-and-a-half years, has now won all but two of Hong Kong’s Group Ones – the Chairman’s Sprint Prize and the Champions & Chater Cup – and they are both still ahead.
Behind Neorealism, defending champion Werther had internal bleeding issues in finishing a close third, and the performance of Derby runner-up Pakistan Star was the only thing causing almost as much talk post-race as the winning ride.
“On the sporting side, today as a whole was the day of the four-year-olds – the Derby form was coming up everywhere,” Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
“If you look at the Queen Mother Memorial Cup, they dominated the finish, and Pakistan Star in the QE II Cup was outstanding.
“So that gives us plenty of optimism looking towards Rapper Dragon’s appearance next Sunday in the Champions Mile and it also makes me think that, with the changing of the guard, we have the right horses coming through for the future.
“In a nation like Hong Kong, without a breeding industry, that is very important and satisfying.”
John Moore was stopping short of planning a Melbourne Cup for Eagle Way after a perfect trip under Moreira made sure the leading big race stable in town didn’t walk away empty handed despite Werther’s defeat.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, he still has the Champions & Chater to get through and then I can sit down with the owner and talk about it,” Moore said.
In light of the small numbers and the light overseas representation, there has been discussion of how the spring features might be rearranged in the calendar to get the maximum impact but Engelbrecht-Bresges said the QE II Cup probably isn’t part of that conversation.
“The positioning of the race is right, I thought the quality of the race was right and in the end today, it wasn’t only about the quality of the horses but the quality of the jockeys,” he said.
“A marvellous race from Joao that will probably be the ride of the month, if not the year.”