Joao Moreira brought up his 100th win of the season aboard Divine Boy.
©Hong Kong Jockey Club
Jockey Joao Moreira brought up a century of winners for the fourth consecutive season at Sha Tin tonight (Wednesday, 2 May), reaching the milestone with a win in the night’s feature, the Class 2 Victoria Racing Club Trophy Handicap (1650m), aboard Divine Boy.
The Me Tsui-trained Divine Boy charged home to beat odds-on favourite Calculation by three-quarters of a length, allowing Moreira to smash through what he calls a “mental block” of a figure.
“It’s always been a number, 100, where I’ve struggled once I’ve approached it, I have found it hard to go past it,” Moreira said. “That’s been the case for quite some time, whether at home, in Singapore or here. I really noted it five or six years ago in Singapore when Leticia Dragon, one of the trainers down there, made a comment about it. She’s absolutely right, too – I hit a flat spot.”
It has been a slower season for Moreira than when he reached his record marks of 145 (2014/15), 168 (2015/16) and 170 (2016/17) the last three years. Not that the three-time champion jockey is setting his sights that high, though, as he engages in a duel with his predecessor as champion, Zac Purton, for this year’s crown – Purton, winless tonight, remains on 93.
“It’s going to be a tight battle this season, so I’m just happy to have reached 100 wins,” he said. “Hopefully from now I can continue to build momentum, I’m going to need it.”
Divine Boy has proven an interesting exhibit of the Hong Kong handicap system at play. Considered a potential stakes-class sprinter early in his career, he even managed to finish seventh – four lengths from Chautauqua and ahead of horses like Aerovelocity, Mongolian Saturday, Thewizardofoz, Peniaphobia and Buffering – in the G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m), two years and a day removed from his effort tonight.
“He started to lose his speed when he turned five so we tried him over further,” Tsui said. “Then we gave him a go on the dirt a few times last season and he always ran well. This became his best course and distance.”
Now a six-year-old, Divine Boy finally managed to score over the Sha Tin dirt 1650m in October, racing clear for a three and a quarter length win. However, a bleeding attack in January kept him off the sidelines until he returned to the races tonight.
“Me Tsui has got this horse in great order,” Moreira said. “The freshen-up has done him the world of good. He’s not an easy horse to ride, but fortunately, things went his way when he got to the outside. He was able to build momentum and he’s got very good acceleration when they go hard, like they did today.”
Two races later, Moreira then made it 101 aboard the John Size-trained Remarkable, who weaved through to take the Class 4 Shek O Handicap (1650m), remaining unbeaten on the dirt.
Lor joins elite club with 50th win
Moreira was not the only one celebrating a big achievement at Sha Tin tonight. Freshman trainer Frankie Lor brought up 50 winners for the season, taking the Class 5 Deep Water Bay Handicap (1800m) with Furious Pegasus, while he made it 51 before the night was out with Turin Redstar’s victory in the Class 3 South Bay Handicap (1650m).
The magnitude of Lor’s milestone can be measured by the fact that only one other current trainer prepared a half-century of winners in their first season – his former boss, Size, who won the 2001/02 trainers’ title with 58 wins in his inaugural term at Sha Tin.
In fact, Lor is ahead of Size at the same stage of their respective freshman seasons. At the 68-meeting mark, the same point as was reached on Wednesday night, Size was on 50 wins.
“It has been quite a season, it’s amazing,” Lor said. “When I was being interviewed before the season started, I was thinking 20 wins, 30 if I was lucky. I didn’t know the horses I was getting well enough and I didn’t know if they would be good enough, but once I got them, I thought a few of them were on a good rating and could win a few races.
“Horses like Yourthewonforme, Morethanlucky, Diamond Friends and Winner St Paul’s have been great. And Furious Pegasus, too – that’s his third win for me, he’s had a few leg problems but he’s done a great job.”
Lor sits second to Size in this year’s trainers’ championship, 24 wins adrift, and while he doesn’t hope to catch his former mentor, he believes that he can continue his winning run.
“I would hope we might have some horses coming through that still haven’t reached their mark,” Lor said. “The way Turin Redstar won, maybe he might have another win left in him up in grade.”
Perhaps the night’s most electric winner was Goldie Flanker, who took the first section of the Class 4 Repulse Bay Handicap (1200m). Outpaced in the early stages and quickly out of camera shot, the Paul O’Sullivan-trained galloper unleashed a withering turn of foot down the centre of the track under Karis Teetan to reel in his rivals and win by two and a half lengths eased down.
“I remember someone in the media calling him the Class 4 dirt equivalent of Pakistan Star last season,” said a laughing O’Sullivan. “Maybe it’s fitting they’ve both won in the same week. It wasn’t until this time last season that he put it all together and he won three races in a row, so maybe that will be him again this year. He just needs races run to suit.”
Jockey Vincent Ho book-ended the card, winning the opener, the Class 5 Chung Hom Kok Handicap (1200m), on the Caspar Fownes-trained Happy Sound and the last, the Class 3 Stanley Handicap (1200m), on Manfred Man’s All Best Friends.
Racing returns to Sha Tin on Sunday (6 May), where the feature is the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m).