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There’s no picking and choosing for Joao Moreira

The four-time Hong Kong champion returns to action on Sunday knowing he must garner more support or forget about a fifth title.

Joao Moreira is ‘hungry’ and ‘willing’ as he prepares to play catch-up after missing the first two meetings of the Hong Kong season, but the Brazilian is expecting a tough battle to find the backing he knows he needs if he is to challenge Zac Purton for the premiership.

And the four-time champion, a dominant phenomenon during his first few seasons in the city, believes there is a myth in need of busting.

“I know people think I can pick and choose rides,” he said. “I’m not able to pick and choose rides; I haven’t been able to do that for quite some time now.”

The Brazilian’s late return to Hong Kong from his home country – after undergoing treatment for injuries and ailments, including a problematic hip – sidelined him from the Sha Tin season opener last Sunday; and he was still under quarantine restrictions when he spoke to Asian Racing Report on Wednesday, just as his peers were taking their berths in the jockeys’ room for Happy Valley’s first meeting of the season.

“I was allowed to ride trackwork for the first time this morning,” he said, “but I know that I have a lot of work to do. Being out a little bit longer and giving the head start to everybody, what else can I expect? I have to get back into the system and get things started again and that doesn’t happen all at once; I have missed pre-season and that puts me behind.

“I’m willing to fight, to go to war; I want to be there challenging Zac and whoever else can get the support, but I know I’m not in the range of people giving me the support I need to make the game interesting for me and for everyone watching.”

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Zac Purton holds out Joao Moreira in a tight finish. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit /Getty Images)

Moreira and Purton are two of Hong Kong’s all-time greats, each a multiple champion forever associated with a great champion: Moreira and Able Friend; Purton and Beauty Generation.

They have made the Hong Kong premiership battle their own for the past eight seasons and the Australian’s hard-fought title victory in July took him to five championships against Moreira’s four. The pair have had the majority of the best rides wrapped up between them for most of that time, with Moreira having enjoyed unprecedented demand for the first few seasons following his sensational arrival from Singapore in 2013.

But he believes the pendulum has swung back in Purton’s favour to such an extent that he will have to fight to generate fresh support if he is to put up a serious challenge to the current champ.

“This is sport and Zac is a champion, but we can all see that sport becomes boring if one team or one person dominates; competition is always good,” he said.

“I’m in a better position than a lot of jockeys but I’m not the one who gets to pick and choose their rides; Zac is in a better position than I am now when it comes to this.”

Moreira loaded into the ambulance after suffering dehydration on a 32 degree day, May 29, 2022. (Photo by Asian Racing Report)

Moreira held a two-win lead when chest pain, subsequently found to be a heart problem related to stress and the physical demands of his job, meant that he could not continue after the first race at Happy Valley on June 22. That led to him being stood down on medical grounds from the next Sha Tin meeting, too, and from that point on his title chances faded amidst what he felt was weakening support.

“I really want to win races, I have a hunger for this that hasn’t gone away but towards the end of last season I wasn’t getting the quality of rides I believed I should have been getting; the support was not there like it has been in the past,” he said.

Moreira is now looking ahead to Sunday’s Sha Tin fixture and beyond but he is not expecting a great deal from his rides this weekend.

“Look, I go into races believing and I will give those horses the best chance they can have, that’s my job, always,” he said. “But they’re average rides, to be honest.”

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