Some winners are moderate rides and most are standard good rides. The rider who draws one, sits third on the fence and wins the race has done a good job because he’s got it done but that can’t qualify as exceptional. What we’re looking for are decisions by jockeys which change the game and we are blessed to see so many here each season, but these are a few with an extra twist on the good ones.
Joao Moreira, PRAWN BABA (March 5)
Win No. 8 on “that” March day when the Magic Man’s wand was smoking makes the top of the list for all that it underscores about him. On a horse expected to race forward, Moreira elected not to play when the first 600m was too fast. But, instead of sitting back knowing that pace would weaken the leaders late in the race, Moreira wasn’t waiting until then and surged forward when the front-runners finally took a desperately needed breather between the 1,200m and 800m. He made up almost five lengths on them cheaply, then simply maintained Prawn Baba’s gallop to win. Others ran better sectional times but not at the right moments. Most jockeys ride their race off other horses or by the geography of the track but Moreira rode Prawn Baba to the times being run and the pace that suited his horse, like he was in his own lane and could pick or choose his own tempo.
Joao Moreira, NEOREALISM (April 30)
The high-profile stage of the QE II Cup ensured that this winning ride would make the final cut as a memorable moment. In a race devoid of speed on paper, Moreira had already done the unexpected by not leading early when most expected he would. But, when the tempo was funereal in the middle stages and starting to work against him, Moreira threw that plan out and made the instant decision to sweep around and take control before the 800m. It was a bold, decisive change of plan, without a hint of doubt and it was the winning move.
Joao Moreira, GOOD FOR YOU (September 11)
There were several Class 5 winners for Moreira early in the season which might have qualified for much the same ride so they are bracketed here – Consistent, Invisible, there were others. Good For You was the first of them. Keeping his options open in the first 200m then biting the bullet to cut back from a wide draw, finding the rail, fencing up on the circle then turning into the straight having saved ground and energy and getting over the top of the leader in the final stride. In fairness, it’s a ride we see from many of the top jockeys at different times but Moreira has made it an art form.
Zac Purton, CASA MASTER (January 4)
In over 100 wins, Purton produced many excellent rides and whipping around the field in the back straight at Happy Valley is almost overplayed these days. But Purton’s display here was the quintessential version and even more impressive as he called it pre-race. Purton settled in the back half, careful to stay away from the rail, and with his three main rivals just ahead but, crucially, the leaders were ridden by Kei Chiong Ka-kei and Vincent Wong Chak-yiu, both known for choking off the pace in front. Purton told Casa Master’s owners beforehand exactly how the race would play. At the 800m, he made a short, sharp move from two lengths behind those main rivals to two lengths in front of them, but never an uncontrolled splurge of energy, leaving his very limited mount plenty in the tank to see the rest of the race out.
Keita Tosaki, BIG BANG BONG (December 7)
This is the left-field inclusion because we’re not sure how intentional this was but it looked a deliberate steal as his passive mid-race tactics paved the way to winning a leg of the International Jockeys’ Championship on the 28-1 shot. After following leader Cheerful Boy to the first turn, crucial to victory was how much rope Tosaki fed Cheerful Boy down the back. . A leader by four lengths running slower than 24-second sectionals can be expected to find his nearest rivals breathing down his neck, but Tosaki kept his distance, ensuring Douglas Whyte only coasted on the leader and that kept serious pressure out of the race too long for the finishers. And, because Tosaki was running second, he was blocking the way for better fancied ones wanting to get out and running until he finally went full bore at the 300m and it was too late for the favourites.