A leading trainer and jockey from two powerhouse nations in the Asian Racing Federation are combining this week in an assault on one of Hong Kong’s feature spring races, Sunday’s HK20 million G1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin.
Japan’s Noriyuki Hori’s booking of Joao Moreira for Carrot Farm’s Neorealism (JPN) presents a formidable challenge to the field in the traditional feature with Hori no stranger to success at Sha Tin and Moreira part of the that success as well as being Hong Kong’s leading jockey this season.
Only the very best riders from outside the JRA fold get the call-up to partner Japan’s star gallopers at home and abroad writes David Morgan, Hong Kong Jockey Club’s correspondent this week.
Moreira, like another jockey with a claim to the unquantifiable “world’s best” tag, England’s Ryan Moore, is a firming favourite on that small, select roster. Hori, the JRA’s classically aloof champion trainer, appears to hold the Englishman and the Brazilian in high esteem, and, in Moreira’s case, no wonder - the rider’s strike rate for the handler is 62% thanks to eight wins from 13 rides.
“Hori is a brilliant trainer,” Moreira says. “He goes through those minute details to get to perfection. He may not get there, because no one can, but if you try for perfection then the results will come, as he’s shown.
“Most of the Japanese trainers, they respect you as a rider so they give you good opportunities and when they give you instructions, they leave it mostly in your hands as the jockey, which is great. But they also come and give you as much information about their horses as they can. That puts you in a spot where, obviously, you can make mistakes but much less than when you’re riding for a trainer that gives you a specific instruction.
“One thing about Hori that is very important is that he understands the horses,” he continues. “He looks at horses and he understands them. He tries so hard to look at a horse and tries to figure out where a horse is at. So, for me, as a jockey, it’s a great opportunity to be working with such a nice guy and such a good trainer.”
It is less than three years since Moreira first experienced racing in Japan. A handful of rides on the G1 Yasuda Kinen card of 8 June, 2014 yielded no wins, including sixth in the big one aboard the John Size-trained Glorious Days for Hong Kong. But Moreira, being Moreira, did not take long to make an impact in the Land of the Rising Sun.
He returned 14 months later and bagged outright victory in the 2015 World All-Star Jockeys contest thanks to a treble in the annual four-race competition. Last May, Hori handed the record-breaking Brazilian the coveted ride on Japan’s Horse of the Year, Maurice, in the Champions Mile at Sha Tin. The result? A sublime win.
There followed a short stint at Sapporo in August, a warm-up to grease the wheels before the start of the Hong Kong season. Moreira wowed with 17 winners from 53 rides, including six in one day – seven in a row, taking into account the previous day’s finale – which equalled Yutaka Take’s JRA record. His Japan-side tally stands at 24 (all at Sapporo) from 79 rides, at a strike rate of 30%. And with December’s success in the G1 Hong Kong Vase atop Hori’s Satono Crown, and last month’s brilliant win on the Yasuo Tomomichi-trained Vivlos in the G1 Dubai Turf at Meydan, Hong Kong’s standout rider has strengthened his position as a “gun for hire” when Japan’s major players are on the lookout.
Moreira wins more than most. His Hong Kong tally stands at 550, delivering two champion jockey titles with 145 and 168 wins on the board, totals that have put 13-time champion Douglas Whyte’s previous record of 114, an epic return until three years ago, deep in the shade. This term, already, he has 137 Hong Kong wins to his credit at a 26% strike rate, including a sensational eight-timer at Sha Tin on 5 March.
With wins in each of Hong Kong’s December international races and Champions Mile scores with Maurice (2016) and Able Friend (2015), the APQEII Cup is the only one of Hong Kong’s six most senior Group 1 races that has so far eluded Moreira.
Neorealism has a strong claim in this year’s race. The six-year-old chestnut is a classic Japanese late-developer that is expected to peak this term. The Neo Universe entire impressed first-up this year with victory in the G2 Nakayama Kinen (1800m), but it is last year’s G2 Sapporo Kinen (2000m) win under Christophe Lemaire that really shone.
Neorealism rounded out last year with two efforts at a mile, both under Moore. A fine third in the G1 Mile Championship at Kyoto and a fair ninth in the G1 Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin both suggested that the 1600m was on the sharp side, but the experience of the latter could prove vital to success on this return visit.
Against Neorealism will be classic-placed Dicton from France, Australian G1 winner The United States and a select home team that features last year’s runaway winner Werther, as well as two other past APQEII Cup victors, Blazing Speed (2015) and Designs On Rome (2014).