SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Horse racing has always thrived on its romantic notions. The rich and famous might own most of the best horses but it is the success of the battlers that keeps the sport’s heart beating.
The Brazilian jockey Joao Moreira is living proof of that endearing appeal. Born into a life of poverty, he has defied the odds and risen to become one of the most accomplished riders in the sport, breaking records all over the world.
In racing circles he is known as the ‘Magic Man’, a nickname he was given partly because of the staggering number of winners he rides but also for the way he makes it all look so easy.
He has also been called one of the best jockeys in the world after going on a global winning spree and even his rivals find it hard to disagree.
“I’ve seen some great jockeys over the years, Eric Saint-Martin, Oliver Peslier and obviously Frankie Dettori,” the Australian jockey Corey Brown told Reuters.
”But Jaoa’s just got this uncanny knack to get on with horses. He just picks them up and gets them to do a little bit more.
“I don’t know what it is or how to pinpoint it but I think it’s the way he holds the horses, he just gives them a lot of confidence and he’s definitely one of the best that I’ve ever seen.”
When Moreira was a child, he would sneak into paddocks and ride farmer’s horses at night to hone his skills.
He struggled for years just to get a riding license in his native Brazil but when he did Moreira proved a natural in the saddle, chalking up more than 1,000 winners in South America before heading to Singapore in 2009.
He instantly established himself as a star in the mega-rich Southeast Asian city-state, winning four successive Singapore jockey titles and smashing more records along the way.
In 2012, he won 206 races in a single season. A year later, he once rode all eight winners on the card, a mind-boggling feat unmatched anywhere else in the world.
That thrust him into the international spotlight and he has been on a whirlwind trip ever since.
In 2014, he relocated to Hong Kong and began to attract the attention of top international trainers. He was lured to the biggest races on other parts of Asia, Australia, Europe and Dubai, and won everywhere he went.
In Australia, where gamblers are notoriously critical of foreign jockeys, thousands chanted his name. From humble roots, now he is one of the rich and famous.
In March, he rode six winners in a single night in Hong Kong. On Wednesday, he equaled Douglas Whyte’s record (114) for the most wins in a Hong Kong season.
There are still 17 meetings left in the season but the 30-year-old will get the chance to break the record on Saturday before heading back to Singapore and Kranji racecourse.
He is booked to ride the Argentine-bred Johnny Guitar in the S$3 million ($2.28 million) Singapore Airlines International Cup and Zac Spirit in the S$1 million International Sprint.
For all his success, Moreira has not won either of Singapore two features events yet but few would begrudge him success this time.
“As a bloke, he’s a gentleman, he’s very humble about his career and the things that’s done,” said Singapore-based Brown, who is riding Quechua in the Cup.
”Everyone’s starting to see how good he is now. Singapore obviously experienced it two years ago and he just keeps breaking all these records.
“I‘m very happy for him, as I said, he’s an absolute gentleman, he’s very humble and I just like to see him riding winners.”
Editing by John O'Brien