The gap between Joao Moreira’s best and worst has been vast at times this season and that was there for all to see at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, with the Brazilian’s effort aboard Zone D to sideline him for six meetings in February.
On pleading guilty to failing to ride $2.20 favourite Zone D out to the end of the race to the satisfaction of stewards, Moreira was hit with by far the biggest suspension of his Hong Kong career – he had never missed more than three meetings before.
That ban that will see him miss two Group Ones – the Gold Cup and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup – and also throws the door wide open for his rival Zac Purton, who he was really starting to turn the screws on.
While Purton was sidelined by injury after his fall from Lucky Patch in the Hong Kong Sprint, Moreira peeled off 20 winners to turn an 11-win deficit into a lead of nine in the jockeys’ premiership.
After a quartet on Sunday, Moreira snared three of the first four races on Wednesday night to open up a lead of 13 on Purton, which the Australian reduced to 12 later on the card.
But a moment of madness in the second-last race has ensured Purton will get most of February to himself, setting the scene for a ding-dong battle between the pair in the back-half of the season.
Purton and Hong Kong racing fans won’t be the only winners, either. Not only will there be two nice Group One rides up for grabs, but – as was seen while Purton was out – the trickle-down effect that the absence of one of the city’s two big guns has means there will be more on offer for those down the line.
As for Moreira, he’s a confidence rider and how he responds in the four meetings before his suspension starts will likely have a big say in the premiership race when all is said and done.
Zero to (see) Sixty
Almost two years to the day since Hong Kong racing was first hit with crowd restrictions because of Covid-19, a Group One meeting will be held in front of zero spectators for the first time during the pandemic – and probably ever.
Only four times during the pandemic has there been absolutely no one on track and three of those have been in the past fortnight, with the other back in March 2020.
At least owners have been permitted most of the time – 271 people attended the 2020 Hong Kong International Races when only owners with starters and their family members were allowed on course.
As it stands only staff members, club officials, licensed personnel and people essential to the running of the race meeting are allowed on course, with the Jockey Club confirming on Thursday that Hong Kong racing will continue behind closed doors until at least the Chinese New Year meeting on February 3.