With Hong Kong’s spring majors on the horizon, Brazilian superstar João Moreira spoke to Vision Sport about riding winners on racing’s biggest stages
A month on from Arrogate’s historic victory in the Dubai World Cup, the latest instalment of an action-packed international Flat racing calendar sees some of the world’s top horses clash at the spring majors, the climax of the season in Hong Kong.
With Japan’s Neorealism set to take on locally-trained Pakistan Star in the QEII Cup on 30 April, and two British horses lining up for the Champions’ Mile on 7 May, there is plenty of equine action to savour, but the star of the show will be a jockey – just as he is at every race meeting in Hong Kong.
João Moreira will tell you that life as a professional rider is hard work – early mornings, few days off in a year, and a brutally strict diet – but if you’re one of the world’s best, and prepared to travel, then it can also pay handsomely. Italy’s Frankie Dettori, England’s Ryan Moore and France’s Christophe Soumillon are three of the most high-profile examples of the globetrotting modern-day jockey, but the whispers on the racetrack are that Moreira is riding better than anyone else in the world right now.
On 5 March, he showed exactly why racegoers at Sha Tin nickname him “Magic Man” when riding a record-breaking eight winners at a single meeting, and a few weeks later he was showcasing his talents at Meydan, bringing Japanese mare Vivlos through with a perfectly-timed surge to win the US$6m Dubai Turf.
“Just being part of [Dubai World Cup] is pretty special, but when you have a winner it becomes even more so,” Moreira told Vision Sport afterwards, three years on from starring at the 2014 edition of Dubai’s flagship meeting when he won the two Group 1 sprint races on the card.
“It’s the most prestigious racing in the world,” he adds. “So many people watch it, and it’s located in a perfect place where horses from all over the world can come over and be competitive.”
The bright lights of Meydan are a long way from where Moreira started, having been born into poverty in coastal Brazil. After working as a ‘mafu’ (stable lad) he gradually built his reputation in his home country to pave the way for a career-changing move to Singapore – which then opened the door to Hong Kong and his ascent to the top.
“I disagree that I’m the best jockey in the world but I’m happy that some people say that!” claims the modest 32-year-old, whose combination of soft hands, natural instinct and light frame give him the freedom to take his pick of the best horses at the most prestigious meetings around the world, from Royal Ascot to the Melbourne Cup.
“What I have in mind at the moment is to go back to Japan, where I’ve been getting good rides and have been well looked after,” he says of his plans for 2017, which has already been spectacularly successful and could get even better when his Hong Kong Derby winner Rapper Dragon bids for the Champions’ Mile on 7 May.
“But whenever I have opportunities to ride worldwide I will, because this is my time,” he adds. “I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but I will keep on trying to enjoy it and make good of use of it.”