By Hans Ebert

Apparently, his heart is not in it anymore- being in Hong Kong. Guess he’s outgrown the city. Stone, paper, scissors and the heart wins over everything else including money. Joao Moreira has more than enough. He’s dead set on making his dreams come true in Japan and he’ll keep trying to pass all the tests including being able to speak and write Japanese to become only the third foreign jockey along with Christopher Lemaire and Mirco Demuro to ride in Japan on a full time basis.

It’s something he’s being trying to master for almost two years. So this has hardly been a shock move. The tea leaves were there to be read and from everything we know, he stayed on for an unplanned extra season.

What’s interesting is the timing for what’s been described as a “difficult decision”- withdrawing his license to ride in Hong Kong for the 2018-19 season the night before the HKJC Licensing Committee were scheduled to meet. Joao Moreira was also upfront enough to say that he’s given the “exclusive” to his story to racing writer Michael Cox of the SCMP, a longtime supporter and media confidante of the rider.

Yes, he has his own worldwide support system and runs his career as a business. He’s not a control freak, but he knows his worth. He’s ambitious, family comes first and he plays by his own rules by being ruthlessly charming. It works for him. I have a great deal of time for Joao and respect the way he’s looking after número uno without making a song and samba about things.

Also not renewing his license for the next season is Tommy Berry who returns to Sydney for “family reasons”, but this is hardly a surprise nor “another body blow to the HKJC.”

Nothing has worked out for Berry during his first full-time season riding in Hong Kong. His retainer as stable jockey for John Moore fell apart before it even had a chance to find its feet, and despite the HKJC keeping him on as a Club jockey, his strike rate has been one of the worst amongst all the jockeys- foreign and local.

Other than a very recent treble including a sit and steer job aboard Pakistan Star, one of the real good guys of horse racing had gone almost 80 rides without a winner.

Some racing writers have their own agendas and these transparent agendas are at work, but facts don’t lie. The success Tommy Berry had with Chautauqua was a long time ago. Times change. Whereas someone totally out of left field like the hardworking Italian Alberto Sanna has made Hong Kong work for him, Tommy Berry and owners and trainers just didn’t click.

Alberto Sanna is a very interesting work in progress who’s licensed for six months whereas with the expected departure of Brett Prebble and Olivier Doleuze from the riding ranks, time will tell how replacements Callan Murray, who’s had a short stint here and returns a far more experienced rider, and a new name in Grant van Niekerk, both from South Africa, will fare.

Far more pertinent is who can replace Joao Moreira? Apart from being a very good rider, the most suitable replacement must be charismatic, have an effusive personality, a dazzling smile, very good teeth and preferably be Brazilian with the ability for their fandom to carry the tote. This should be no problem for Stipendary Steward and Secretary of the HKJC Licensing Committee Steve Railton. Right?

Who’s out there that fits the bill? Hmmmm. There are always good riders, but Joao Moreira has spoilt Hong Kong racing fans by being tremendously charismatic and the only truly marketable jockey in the world.

He’s admitted not enjoying riding at Happy Valley where his stats are hardly great. Here, he goes around on lower class horses seemingly hoping to avoid injury and a suspension. It’s almost a cameo appearance. He’d probably prefer sitting it out and listening to the samba sounds of Carnivale at the Beer Garden on a Happy Wednesday.

This season aside, it’s always been Sha Tin that’s been his happy hunting grounds and where the Brazilian magic man has been a game changer by riding trebles, quartets, quintets and a memorable eight timer.

Simply put, Joao Moreira was at the height of his powers and totally enjoying his work when winning aboard champion horses like Able Friend and Rapper Dragon and from Japan, Satono Crown and Maurice.

The reason for the move to Japan and hopefully be there for the long run? To make a deep impact on global racing. To not just rest on his laurels and become another Yesterday’s Man, but to get back to riding the best horses in the world and winning a race like the Yasuda Kinen- and being part of Japanese success stories overseas.

As written here before, Joao Moreira dreams big and he goes out of his way to make these dreams come true. His positivity is infectious. It’s inspiring.

The problem is having had Joao Moreira being part of Hong Kong racing for four seasons. He changed the game, became his own magic man and we fell under his spell.

We had never seen a rider like him. In full flow and in harmony with his horse, he was balletic- poetry in motion. Let’s not forget that. He was in a different league. What would have happened if he never made Hong Kong his home? We’ll never know.

This season, for whatever the reason, he’s lost his mojo. The rides have been inconsistent, some have been appalling and we’ve watched a rider whose confidence seems to have been shaken and stirred.

How he ends his riding career in Hong Kong is going to be interesting to watch. One doubts he’ll leave in a forgettable manner and blow up bridges in the process. He’s too smart for that.

Though he’s poured cold water on “the battle royale” with Zac Purton for this season’s Hong Kong Jockey Premiership by trumping this with the timing of his announcement regarding Japan, let’s just sit back and see how the rest of his time here pans out. With no baggage to carry or hide and with no monkey on his back, who knows?

One thing is certain: Joao Moreira is irreplaceable because he’s the complete package. It’s Hong Kong’s loss, but it is what it is and it’s now about following the adventures of Joao wherever life takes him and also us looking out for número uno.

For the HKJC- and other racing clubs- it’s about looking forward and taking this decision by the mercurial Brazilian as a positive wake up call that the old ways of doing things belong in the past. It’s time to clean house and get rid of the deadweight. It’s time to get real with no holding back.

Maybe Joao Moreira finally actually leaving is a good thing? It might have actually helped see and understand things more clearly.

The Brazilian Magic Man works in mysterious ways.

#JoaoMoreira #HKRacing #horseracing #HKJC #JapanRacing #JRA #TommyBerry