Rarely is there a shift in momentum like the one involving Zac Purton and Joao Moreira at the Longines Hong Kong International Races on Sunday.
Going into the multi-million dollar Sha Tin extravaganza, it was all about Purton, the reigning Hong Kong champion, a fixture in the world top ten in the TRC jockeys’ rankings for the best part of the last two years, and the rider of the three hottest favourites of the day in the four races at what is indisputably one of the world’s greatest meetings.
We could have expected a TRC points bonanza from the 36-year-old Australian, who is just three points away from returning to world #4. But it never happened. Exultant, 4/5 favourite for the first of the million-dollar contests, the Vase, finished third; as did Aethero, 1/2 for the next, the Sprint; as did Beauty Generation, 15/8 joint favourite for the Mile and now perhaps a shadow of the magnificent performer he was last season. Glorious Forever, Purton’s mount in the final race, the Cup, was sixth.
Yet, while Purton was having a difficult day at the office, Moreira was flying. He won the Vase on the Japanese-trained Glory Vase and followed up immediately on Beat The Clock in the Sprint for local champion trainer John Size. Then Waikuku, Moreira’s mount in the Mile, was a half-length second.
Purton and Moreira, of course, have been battling it out at the summit of one of the most competitive jurisdictions in world racing for five years. The Brazilian blew then champion Purton away when he arrived there in 2014, taking the next three titles before Purton’s fabulous rally in 2017/18. An ill-fated attempt to ride permanently in Japan resulted in Moreira’s return to Hong Kong last season, but the ‘Magic Man’ languished in the Aussie’s shadow all season.
This time, however, the spring is back in the 35-year-old’s step. His successes at the International Races means a nine-point improvement in his TRC Performance Index. Himself a former top-ten regular, he had dropped out of the top 20 - but this week he climbs five places to #18, and he looks certain to continue rising.
Moreira, whose two big wins on Sunday were part of a five-timer on the Sha Tin card, is now 11 winners ahead of Purton in the jockeys’ championship (48 to 37), a far cry from 2018/19, when Purton’s final total of 168, was 78 clear of his rival.
It is certainly great to see Moreira back at the top of his game, and sad to watch the stutter in Purton’s momentum, but it is worth remembering that these are both outstanding riders, two of the very best riding anywhere in the world today.