Reflecting on the 2016-17 jockeys’ championship, it’s hard to say which cast a bigger shadow, the relentless winning machine that is Joao Moreira, or the spectre of race falls, which seemed to sideline riders with alarming regularity.
Perhaps the true dominance of Moreira’s third straight championship can be best understood through runner-up Zac Purton’s outstanding campaign.
Records and personal bests were bound to be broken when five more meetings were added to the fixture list, but even so, Purton’s 107 winners can be considered a monumental achievement when placed into historical context.
Purton remains one of just three men to have ridden 100 winners in a term, along with Whyte and Moreira, and it stands as the equal eighth best of all time.
The Australian won two of the four Group Ones on international day, rode a career-best five-timer of his own on a Moreira-less day in May and his mounts collected a massive HK$140 million in prize money.
Yet, and here’s the perspective, Purton was still 64 winners behind the rampant Brazilian who broke his own single season record with 171 wins and smashed the record for winners in a day with eight on a magical March afternoon at Sha Tin.
Moreira’s mounts collected HK$207 million as he swept to big race success as well, securing his holy grail with the BMW Hong Kong Derby win on Rapper Dragon, on a day when he had five winners, among a host of other feature race triumphs.
The Brazilian strengthened his ties with Japan’s marauding raiders, basically stealing the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup with a stupendous ride on Neorealism and earlier the Longines Hong Kong Vase on Satono Crown – a win which gave him a full set of four international day races, something he achieved in three years.
Perhaps the only downer for Moreira was fines from stewards for careless riding, but even then he was still breaking records, even if they were unwanted; the 33-year-old’s HK$255,000 fine for careless riding being the largest in history.
Moreira and Purton won more than one third of the races between them, so once the big dogs ate, the rest were left scrapping over bones.
Still, there were some new faces and subtle shifts in the pecking order outside the big two, Neil Callan elevating himself to third with 47 wins and Sam Clipperton having a standout rookie season with 40 wins.
Nash Rawiller was one of the early season stories as he rose in the ranks before he was victim to an April race fall that left him nursing a damaged shoulder and sidelined for the rest of the season.
Rawiller’s 25 meetings missed were part of a massive 243 total meetings lost by 15 different jockeys to injury or illness as 19 jockeys were dislodged in various incidents.
Howard Cheng Yue-tin’s 17-season, 436-win career was effectively ended when stewards invoked new rules, asking for bank and phone records, and he declined.
The stipes also came down hard on Kei Chiong Ka-kei when she was whacked with a month-long running and handling charge for her ride on Doyeni in May.
Chiong’s fall from grace, having won the Tony Cruz Award and most popular jockey last season, to riding 21 winners this term, was a talking point as Hong Kong’s only female jockey suffered from a severe case of second-year syndrome.
Not that the local kids did badly, Derek Leung Ka-chun somehow won the Tony Cruz Award for leading local, overcoming an otherwise horror season that included a shocking early season fall and ended with emergency surgery.
Apprentice Dylan Mo Hin-tung salvaged what looked to be a disastrous season in the making with a late season flurry, but it was the arrival of the next 10-pound claimer in June that caused real commotion as Matthew Poon Ming-fai – aka the “Poon Train” – tore through the first part of his claim and finished with 22 wins.
Tommy Berry’s arrival as John Moore’s stable jockey next season promises to again change the dynamics, and Moreira says he won’t ride as many winners, but it’s hard to imagine the winning machine slowing down just yet.