By News Team
7th April 2020
When the gates burst open over six furlongs at Happy Valley, much of the horse’s fate rests in the hands of its jockey.
Arguably more that anywhere else in the world, the tactical battle for jockeys in Hong Kong is so important and a race can be won or lost in a matter of strides.
Some of the greatest British and Irish jockeys have struggled to get on the board when chancing their arm in the racing-crazy city, with the likes of Ryan Moore, Oisin Murphy and Jamie Spencer all having largely fruitless trips there this winter.
Muscling in on the winners’ circle is made ever so difficult due to the quality of permanent jockeys in the region and their relationships with connections.
‘Magic Man’ Joao Moreira, current champion Zac Purton, ‘Mauritian Magician’ Karis Teetan and up-and-coming homebred star Vincent Ho are fierce competitors fuelled with regular firepower.
Getting a ride in Hong Kong
Things are very different in Hong Kong compared to the UK or Ireland.
Instead of having agents ringing round the yards and searching out the best rides for a jockey, the riders themselves will pick their way through the formbook and phone up trainers to ask for the leg up.
However, one chance on a horse is all you might get in Hong Kong, with connections commonly switching from jockey to jockey until they find the right fit.
‘Magic Man’ Moreira holds the aces
With multiple titles from his days in Brazil and then Singapore, Moreira arrived in Hong Kong with a big reputation in 2013.
Having missed the first month of the season that year, he still managed to clock up 97 winners and finish second in the championship, setting himself up perfectly for the first of three consecutive titles in 2014/15.
The Brazilian is a master of placing his horses in exactly the right spots, which tends to be just off the pace and on the rail at both Happy Valley and Sha Tin, and he always seems to get what he’s asking for from a horse.
Many say he has ‘great hands’ and when you watch him riding, wearing those familiar white magician-like gloves, you couldn’t argue against it.
Horses respond under Moreira and that’s why he’s now partnered more than 900 winners in Hong Kong.
His strike-rate at Sha Tin in particular is phenomenal at over 20%, while everyone will remember the day he rode eight winners on the same day – just magic.
Purton wears the crown
Though Moreira is probably the fans’ favourite in Hong Kong, Purton, or the ‘Zac-Man’, as locals call him, would be a very close second.
The Australian is fiercely competitive, rock-solid in terms of his balance in the saddle and hugely confident.
As an apprentice, he broke the record in Brisbane for riding out his claim – it only took him 12 months – and became champion jockey in the process.
He’s now Hong Kong’s current champion and has a strong relationship with some of Hong Kong’s top horses, including miler Beauty Generation and sprinter Aethero.
Teetan keeps the heat on
Sometimes it’s easy to back whatever Purton or Moreira ride and come away in good shape, but ignore Teetan at your peril.
Nicknamed the ‘Mauritian Magician’, Teetan is a happy-go-lucky sort with a hunger to progress.
While some jockeys struggle to adapt to riding in Hong Kong, you can bank on Teetan to urge his mount out of the gates as soon as they fly open and that’s one major skill needed to be successful in the territory.
Ho can go right to the top
Young Hong Konger Vincent Ho looks to have a huge future.
Unfazed and calm, Ho is an accomplished rider that’s keeping his feet on the ground despite winning one of racing’s biggest prizes just this year, the £2 million BMW Hong Kong Derby.
UK racing fans may recall him riding a winner on Shergar Cup day at Royal Ascot, or indeed any of his seven wins from 27 rides in the UK last summer.
As a local rider he’s bound to get further big opportunities on top horses, while a recent win in the Group 2 Sprint on 33/1-shot Voyage Warrior goes to show that he knows how to make the best of a bad hand too.