Joao Moreira v Zac Purton. It’s one of the elite world sporting contests still available to fans in these challenging times but the superstar Brazilian had the edge on his rival at Sha Tin on Sunday, bringing up his 100th winner of the season in the process.
The two are engaged in what shapes as a thrilling conclusion to the Hong Kong jockeys’ championship but on this occasion, the Magic Man beat the Australian on the track – in the three races he won, Purton came second – as well as in the stewards’ room, where the second section of the Class Four Mong Kok Handicap (1,400m) was decided.
There was just a short-head between them on the line with Leading Fortune (Moreira) getting the bob over Party Genius (Purton), but the inquiry sign went up immediately after plenty of contact between the two, the winner laying in for much of the straight and bumping the runner-up on a few occasions.
It brought four of Hong Kong racing’s biggest names into the stewards’ room together – Moreira and John Size against Purton and Douglas Whyte. Three have shared the past 19 jockeys’ championships (Whyte has 13, Moreira and Purton have three each) while Size has 11 trainers’ titles of his own.
The dynamics in the room would’ve been incredible given the history they all share with each other. Size and Whyte were one of the greatest trainer-jockey combinations the city has seen while Whyte and Purton had an often tense rivalry in the saddle, but were chasing their first win together since the South African became a trainer.
It was one of those calls that could have gone either way with chief steward Kim Kelly saying it was “one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make on a protest in my time in Hong Kong, but I’m more than comfortable with the outcome”.
The real irony of the race is that the third-placed horse, Paul O’Sullivan’s Stunning Impact, would’ve won with even luck.
In any case, Moreira was delighted with the result.
“Those things can be crucial at the end of the season,” he said. “Obviously we didn’t want to win in the stewards’ room, but it came to that and fortunately we’re still taking the win home.
“I think it was a fair decision by the stewards to keep my horse as the winner. The circumstances of the race didn’t really change the result – both horses had every chance to win.”
Unsurprisingly, Whyte did not agree with the ruling.
“It was disappointing,” he said. “My horse was intimidated for a long way. I’ve been around for a long time and I was of the opinion it would be overturned.”
But while Moreira and Whyte were on opposing sides during the objection, they joined forces with Enzemble in the eighth race for what was the Magic Man’s 100th winner of the term.
“It was a peach of a ride,” Whyte said. “He’s not the easiest horse, he needs a few things to go his way. He needs an ounce of luck but it was a top ride. He’s been knocking on the door for a while.”
Moreira capped off the day as Me Tsui Yu-sak’s Fantastic Show collected his third straight victory, taking out the Class Three Hung Hom Handicap (1,400m). The five-year-old has now won four of his 19 starts with the Brazilian in the saddle for each of them.
The treble takes the Moreira to 101 wins, four more than Purton, who added one to tally after saluting with Good View Clarico.
“Reaching 100, it’s very good, but it’s not a number I want to get stuck on,” Moreira said.
“I wasn’t counting to be honest, I’m only looking at how far I can be ahead of Zac. Obviously it is very good for the sport, we are both trying our best.
“It helps with my motivation and my spirit – I didn’t know Zac finished second in all three of them.”
Fans can look forward to the battle resuming at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.