Joao Moreira credits him with reinvigorating his body and it’s obvious physiotherapist Joe Zhang is impressed with what he’s seen during a whirlwind two years in the Hong Kong “racing bubble”.
From Sydney, Zhang has been the Jockey Club’s in-house physiotherapist throughout the pandemic, working one-on-one with the jockeys during times when they were unable to seek external treatment.
“It’s been a whirlwind run. It all started when the jockeys were first locked down and weren’t able to get out and seek physio treatment, so the club brought me in as part of the bubble system,” Zhang said.
Zhang, who finished up at the Jockey Club on Thursday ahead of a move to Singapore, has worked with professional rugby union players, Olympians and professional footballers and has no doubt where jockeys fit into the pecking order.
“The jockeys are on par with them or beyond in a lot of cases, especially when you consider the amount of pain they put themselves through to get their weight down,” he said.
“When I got there, there were some pretty broken bodies from them training super hard – the jockeys are some of the fittest athletes I’ve come across in my life.
“They put their bodies through a lot more hell than I’ve seen other athletes put their body through.”
Zhang has done extensive work teaching Hong Kong’s jockeys “how to look after their bodies and how to be proactive in looking after themselves” and says the “old man” Joao Moreira was his most frequent patient.
“They all work hard but he puts in slightly different work – he puts his body through things I’ve never seen, almost to the point of torture,” Zhang said.
“He works bloody hard on his body, pushes it to the limits, and as a result he needs the most work.
“It’s been quite cool working with him the past couple of years because in the beginning – and this is the same with a lot of the jockeys – his attitude towards physio was ‘OK, I’ll get a rub when I feel sore’, but it’s been slowly educating him and coaching him to get him to realise that if he works a bit on being stronger through different parts of his body, he can actually reduce his pain that way.
“One, he can ride better because he is stronger, and two, he can do so without feeling as much pain. With a lot of the jockeys, it’s about changing their mindset about how they approach training because traditionally they’ll look at weights and not want to touch them because they want to get their body weight down.
“Slowly over the past couple of years a fair few of the boys have started to change their mindset about weights and strength training and started to realise it’s actually quite a complimentary thing, to their riding performance as well as their health.”
Four-time champion jockey Zac Purton praised Zhang for the rapport he built with the jockeys, while 38-year-old Moreira is sad to see him go.
“He has helped me big time. As time went by he started to learn about my body, he took his time and figured out the specific help I needed,” Moreira said.
“I was able to learn exactly what my problems were. I’m getting old and while it would be nice to get a new body, I have to deal with the one I’ve got and he reinvigorated me. He’s helped not just me but a lot of other jockeys.”