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Moreira takes out Hong Kong jockeys' challenge
Michael Lee in Hong Kong

Singapore’s premier jockey Joao Moreira’s dream run in 2012 reached even greater heights after he defeated a start-studded line-up of jockeys to land the Longines International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley in Hong Kong on Wednesday night.

The two-time Singapore champion jockey, who has already clinched a third title given his unassailable lead on the log at Kranji, accounted for class acts such as Christophe Lemaire, Ryan Moore, Olivier Peslier, Tom Queally and Craig Williams to pick up his second jockeys’ series championship three weeks after he landed a similar event in South Africa.

The 29-year-old Brazilian, who has this year also ridden successfully in Sweden, has a habit of hitting the target whenever he is lured overseas for such flying visits. In 2010, he scored in another jockeys’ challenge in Perth, the Kailis Invitational Cup, not to mention he often delivered for the Patinack Farm when he made brief raids in Sydney and Melbourne that same year.

All The Winners hands Joao Moreira a first victory on Hong Kong soil (photo by Hong Kong Jockey

But landing the Hong Kong event, a traditional prelude to the International Races on Sunday, held a special significance to Moreira, who had hitherto never ridden a winner in the powerhouse racing mecca. He first rode in the former British colony in 2010, at the same jockey’s invitational, but then came home empty-handed.
That void on his resume has now been filled – and it could not have come in more resounding fashion.
Moreira opened his Hong Kong account in style at the very first leg of the four-race series at Happy Valley aboard All The Winners to tally up 12 points. He, however, failed to get onto the scoreboard in the next two legs with two fourths aboard Snitzel Kid and Good Luck Win, allowing Moore (Absolute Fantasy) and Zac Purton (The Untouchablelad) to level up with a winner apiece.
The overall title was still up for grabs among most of the 12 contenders after the penultimate leg, but in a nail-biting finish, Moreira weaved his special brand of magic to snare the last leg – and the championship at the very last stride.
After dropping Noble Deluxe back to last in the 1650m race, Moreira improved his position along the rails before searching for a run on the outside at the top of the straight. The gap took a while to materialise, but once it came up, Moreira threw everything bar the sink at his mount to get up by a nostril in the shadows of the post.
With a total of 24 points, Moreira tops the log, six clear of Purton on 18 points, with Moore holding on for third on 12 points.
“I’m pinching myself. This feels like a dream,” said Moreira who also won a cash prize of HK$500,000 (S$79,000).
“But when you put yourself in this kind of position and tell yourself you can do it, things can happen.
“I have to thank the Singapore Turf Club for giving me the permission to ride in this competition, and also all these fans back home who have supported me and believed I could win it for Singapore.
“I’ve made Singapore proud first and foremost, but I’m also Brazilian and that win’s also for my country of birth.
“I also have a special thought for my wife and son who are in Brazil right now. I’m sure they would be screaming when they watch the race replays as they don’t get the Hong Kong races 'live' there.”
Moreira said he went into the 15th renewal of the Hong Kong jockeys’ series, with the confidence he can measure up against the best, but it became slightly dented after the rides were drawn.
“It came a bit as a surprise to me as I was told my rides didn’t look that good, but I had plenty of luck, and the way the races played out in my favour was a big help,” said Moreira.
“For example, my first winner (All The Winners) had a soft run in front and the others just couldn’t catch him.
“I didn’t expect he would jump so quick, but I got a chance to dictate the pace after he put himself in front so easily.
“He led at a slow pace, but once he sped up from the 600m, I knew it would be hard to get past him.
“I was just lucky I got such a good horse. Any other jockey would have won on him.
“For the second winner (Noble Deluxe), the trainer (Peter Ho who also prepares All The Winners and The Untouchablelad) told me to be in second or third spot.
“But when we jumped, they went so fast that he would have been four or five deep if I had rolled forward. That was why I decided to drop him to the rear.
“Even then, it looked dicey in the home straight as I couldn’t get a clear run. I waited and waited and when the gap came up, I went all out and we just got there.
“I have not been keeping track of the scores all along. All I wanted was the win in that last race.”
Wednesday’s triumph could not have been a better prelude for his main mission on Sunday – the Group 1 ride aboard Super Easy in the HK$15 million Longines Hong Kong Sprint (1200m)
“I’ve ridden him twice (Tuesday and Wednesday) and I couldn’t be happier with him,” said Moreira who has been the Michael Freedman-trained entire’s only partner at his 13 domestic rides (he was ridden by Olivier Doleuze at his first run in Hong Kong three weeks ago) that saw him taste defeat only once (Panasonic Kranji Mile).
“When he pulled up, he was so clean-winded and was really in great shape. I’m just so excited about Sunday’s ride, but I’ve got to concentrate on Friday’s rides first.”
The ever consummate professional heads back to Kranji on Thursday morning to honour his rides at Singapore’s Friday meeting before flying back to Hong Kong on Saturday for the Sprint ride.