By Hans Ebert

It doesn’t matter who wins today on what is a pretty uninspiring eleven race card with a few dirt races thrown in on what is sure to be a rain affected track. As far as 99.99 percent of Hong Kong racing fans are concerned, they’re only interested in seeing Joao Moreira back in action and riding at every meeting before he leaves for Japan and what he hopes will be receiving a full-time foreign jockeys license to ride over there.

His announcement about leaving Hong Kong at the end of this season that some expected before the start of this racing season and with fellow jockeys like Umberto Rispoli hardly surprised- “It’s not about money for Joao. It’s about new challenges”- has, of course, saddened his flock who faithfully follow The Cult Of Moreira.

The announcement has also dampened interest, at least for the time being, in who wins the jockey premiership. The magic man who prefers to be known as a blessed man trumped many by playing his ace in the hole- but with great charm, humility and political correctness that would make Obama, Bill Clinton and Honest Abe Lincoln proud. His interview with the HKJC’s Andrew Le Jeune was a master class in diplomacy. Why burn bridges?

Unlike Douglas Whyte who was always prepared to look at ways around obstacles put in front of him to dent his domination of horse racing during his thirteen year run as Hong Kong’s champion jockey, and which now seems an eternity ago, just as in the way the Red Seas parted for him in races, Joao Moreira has shown that rules can be broken when necessary and that he is his own man.

A friend and local racing fan describes him as “the Brazilian Bruce Lee”- fearless, supremely confident in himself to the point of arrogance, but always polite and charming and impossible to read. But enough about Joao Moreira…at least until he returns from his suspension next week and the battle for supremacy with his formidable foe Zac Purton begins in earnest. And with renewed interest. As someone who saw the magic man after his announcement said, “Joao looks far more relaxed. He’s smiling again. There’s an extra spring in his step.”

Life goes on, however, and it’s now not about who can replace the irreplaceable, but how the Hong Kong jockey ranks can continue to be international, yes, but also able to attract the best in the world and with there always- ALWAYS- being that emphasis on integrity.

While local riders Alvin Ng and Eddie Lai have been “put on notice” about their rides- a little baffling to understand when they’re hardly ever on any winning chances- Tommy Berry will, not surprisingly, return to Sydney for “family reasons”. We wish him well.

Though one of the nicest people in horse racing, his first full time season in Hong Kong has been an annus horribilis where his low strike rate speaks volumes. The split with John Moore didn’t help his “brand”. He deserves better and it will be interesting to see how he performs back home against in-form jockeys like Timmy Clark, Tye Angland, the fire and might of Brenton Avdulla, James McDonald, Kerrin McEvoy, Blake Shinn, Jason Collett and of course Hugh Bowman. Will he be asked to return to Hong Kong to partner Pakistan Star?

Meanwhile, despite some over the top reporting of these and other changes by the HKJC Licensing Committee, they’re not exactly surprising to many who know the ins and outs of Hong Kong racing.

Replacing “veteran” jockeys Brett Prebble and Olivier Doleuze with rumours that the former might possibly be heading for Singapore, are South African riders Callan Murray and Grant van Kiekerk, pictured below. Surely a license for the same country’s very good young rider Lyle Hewittson is around the corner?

While Alexis Badel will make his now usual three month appearance, the question is who will replace the void left by Joao Moreira after he finishes up in Hong Kong this season? The simple answer is that someone will.

Perhaps it’s now the time that the HKJC Licensing Committee “breaks with tradition” and looks with new eyes and a different mindset towards riders like Chris Parnham, Regan Bayliss, Brenton Avdulla, Jason Collett, Jamie Kah, and, if one could overlook that small integrity issue, James McDonald. But the latter could probably never happen. Not yet. Pity.

On the trainer’s front, while Derek Cruz might struggle to make his compulsory number of winners, there’s a new name- Jimmy Ting, currently Assistant Trainer to Danny Shum, and who some may remember as a lightweight jockey mostly used by the very colourful and controversial former champion trainer Brian Kan Ping-chee.

As for tips for today’s racing at Sha Tin, with persistent drizzle for almost a week, who really knows what might happen? What seems written in stone, however, is that by the end of this race day, Zac Purton will be in front in the Jockey Premiership. He has outstanding winning chances in races 1,8,9, and 10. But even stone can turn to putty.

#HKracing #horseracing #JoaoMoreira #ZacPurton #HongKong