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The Brazilian superstar reveals the background to why his emotions were so raw in the aftermath of Sunday’s Grande Premio Brasil victory.
Joao Moreira was wrestling with his emotions even before Raptor’s had slowed to a walk. The Brazilian ace had just won the G1 Grande Premio Brasil, and when fellow rider Bruno Queiroz rode upside and embraced him, he was overcome by a legion of feelings fighting for expression: he covered his face, he hugged the outrider, he hugged the groom, he embraced the horse, he waved to the heavens, punched the air, smiled, laughed, ached, and wiped tears from his eyes.
There were more hugs when he dismounted, but the people he wanted to embrace more than any others were the family members who had travelled with him from hometown Curitiba to Gavea racecourse in Rio de Janeiro to support him: his brother Jair and his nephew Fernando.
“It was hard to find them among that many people, I couldn’t see them,” he told Asian Racing Report. “I was looking and thinking where are they? I wanted to hug them, not so much the other people, I wanted to hug them.”
The vision of a tearful Moreira, arms wrapped around Fernando and then Jair, was shared widely on social media, but the images alone could not convey the context behind the champion rider’s outpouring.
“The only time I have ever seen my brother crying as much as he was, was when we lost our father, so seeing him crying hit me hard,” Moreira revealed.
Wrapped up in that was the fulfilment of the long-held desire to win Brazil’s biggest race, the story of how Moreira came to ride the winner, overcoming the frustration of a narrow defeat the previous day, the joy of having close family in attendance and his mother watching live on TV at home, and the raw expression of what he has endured in the way of mental stress and physical pain in the past two years.
Moreira was a champion in Brazil before he went global with sensational feats in Singapore and then Hong Kong. He left Hong Kong late last year, struggling with pain from debilitating damage to his hip that will in time require replacement surgery; he returned to Brazil to relieve the stresses on his mind that came with the intensity of racing in the Asian hub, and underwent treatment on his hip that is enabling him to continue riding at a high level for a time.
“I know how much I’ve suffered with pain; I know how much I’ve worked hard to be back in the saddle. Being able to be there and deliver like that, it’s beyond special. I had never even placed in that race before, so going there, after going through what I have in the last 20 months, it’s a massive reward,” he said.
“From my point of view, that race is the most difficult race to win … the most difficult. People might say it’s so difficult to win the Melbourne Cup, and yes, it is, but riding Japan, riding in America, riding in Australia, you cannot compare with how it is riding in Rio.
“Jockeys over here, in this race, they are riding with blood in their eyes, like it’s the last race of their lives. It’s very aggressive, bordering on dangerous.”
The Grande Premio Brasil was a rough affair, for sure, there was interference from the gate, rough-riding into the first turn, bumping throughout, and more scrimmaging on the final turn.
“I knew it was going to be that way because I’m from Brazil,” Moreira continued. “I’ve ridden in that race only a few times before but it has never been any different. It’s just so tough to ride around those jockeys who give everything to win that.
“I’ve ridden in many races around the world, but this is the most difficult. You have to find a way to hide yourself, don’t be on the end of somebody’s arrow or they will get you. I got hard hits and bumps, and you must do what you need to do to get through it. It’s wild, very wild.”
That aggressive approach to race riding spilled over the day prior to Moreira’s big victory. After winning the G1 Grande Premio Roberto E Nelson Seabra on the three-year-old filly Kenlova, he partnered Brazil’s speediest filly, the four-year-old Oriana Do Iguassu, in the G1 Grande Premio Major Suckow over 1000 metres.
Moreira led on the bullet-fast sprinter, was headed 350 metres out, fought back, yet was beaten a head as Mandrake and jockey Valdinei Gil prevailed. But there was more to it than that: Moreira objected.
“I squeezed her up after she was headed and got deep into her, and she started to make her way back on the inside,” he recalled. “The jockey on the outside saw me coming back, so he pushed his horse towards my side, bumped me, and touched my shoulder; he pulled me and pushed his horse forward.”
The stewards threw out the objection.
"I was extremely upset when I went to the races on Sunday." Joao Moreira was left seething after stewards threw out his objection in Saturday's G1 Grande Premio Major Suckow at Gavea.
Moreira (inside) was riding the odds-on favourite Oriana Do Iguassu. Correct decision? 👇 pic.twitter.com/jQL1kJcTr4
— Asian Racing Report (@AsianRacingRep) June 22, 2023
“It was ridiculous,” Moreira said. “I was extremely upset when I went to the races on Sunday, it did not taste good to me and it still does not. The owner that I rode for deserves respect for how much he loves the sport, for how long he’s been into the sport and for how much he has supported the sport.
“And I know the reputation of the sport has deteriorated in Brazil, and this sort of thing only deteriorates it more. That’s why it’s important to talk about it, so it doesn’t happen again, otherwise we lose the fans of the sport. If you are an owner or a punter or a sports fan, you see these things and feel like not coming back; they see it’s not fair and don’t want it. We want them to stay there and keep the sport alive.
“When I won this race on Sunday,” he added, “it was like a reward for such a massive frustration we went through on Saturday.”
Oriana Do Iguassu’s owner has been an important supporter since Moreira returned to his homeland. So, too, has Raptor’s owner-breeder Sinval Domingues de Araújo and his son, Diogo d’Araújo of Haras Do Morro; this upcoming weekend he will ride their star two-year-old filly Ajustada Agena in an attempt to make it five wins from five starts.
“I rode for him when I started, so since 2000, and they were small back then, just a few horses, but they were consistent,” Moreira said. “When I came back last year they gave me opportunities to ride for them again and I could see that the quality of horses they are breeding has improved tremendously. I was delighted.”
He was particularly pleased to secure the ride on Raptor’s for the big one given the way jockey bookings played out around the Triple Crown races earlier in the season. Moreira rode the Luis Esteves-trained stablemate Quantify in the G1 Grande Premio Estado do Rio de Janeiro in February and was fourth, two places behind Raptor’s.
Eventually handed the ride on Raptor’s for the open age Grande Premio Brasil, Moreira steered the Hat Trick colt through a brilliant run, saving ground on the inner, avoiding the worst of the bumping, rolling rhythmically to the lead at the top of the straight, and then driving aggressively to defeat the four-year-old Online by a length.
“It was a very meaningful day,” he said. “I always dreamed to win this race but I found that it was so tough, so tough, that I was about to give up on it. Fortunately I didn’t and we got the prize after 23 years. It’s been a long time coming.
“I know this race was meant to be mine,” Moreira added. “The man up there was saying, ok, this is your prize.”
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