By Hans Ebert
Though one Joe- jockey Kanuchiro “Joe” Fujii, below, who racing fans in Australia, Korea and Singapore might remember, is believed to have passed the first hurdle- the extremely difficult written exam- towards being granted a full time license to ride in Japan, the Brazilian Joao- Joao Moreira, failed.
Joe Fujii really shouldn’t have a problem getting over the second hurdle: Spoken Japanese. He’s Japanese. Duh. Kanuchiro “Joe” Fujii has been trying to return home to his family and a full time JRA license from around 2015. It proves that gaining one of these licenses is no walk in the cherry blossom park.
For Joao Moreira, things are not hopeless. But it has caused food for thought. And an appetite for rumours. Those Chinese whispers.
The one most mentioned is that the magic man will be back riding in Hong Kong. But hold your horses. Not so fast. Joao Moreira might not even be considering returning to Hong Kong. And even if he is, it’s not as easy as some think. There are those who would not like to see the very likeable rider back.
It could be misinformation, but apparently Champion UK jockey Silvestre de Sousa is considering applying for a three month licence to ride in Hong Kong during the winter in Europe.
What about riding in Hong Kong on a full time basis? Possible. But, apparently, only if he didn’t have to compete with countryman Joao Moreira for rides. That is if Moreira is granted a license as a full time Club jockey. No Group 1 winning rider is going to come all the way to Hong Kong to pick up the crumbs. Such was the total domination of the Magic Man when riding here that it often became a one horse affair.
There are some in the influential Chinese racing media who believe that the HKJC should not entertain any thoughts of taking the Magic Man back. That these should be flushed down the gurgler. Have the door slammed shut on him. Forever.
Why? It goes back to that eleventh hour announcement by Joao Moreira before the HKJC Licensing Committee met. The one right before the start of the current Hong Kong racing season where he announced he would be leaving to fulfil his dream of riding full time in Japan. It caught the Club off guard. And with egg on its face. It wasn’t a good look.
To add more eggs into the mix for further stirring, he gave- or had already given- his close ally and former SCMP racing reporter Michael Cox, his side of the story. It’s no secret that Cox was hardly considered an amigo of the HKJC.
That carefully choreographed move by the gifted Brazilian rider is still seen as an insult to Hong Kong. And Hong Kong racing. A Hong Kong that welcomed him and his family with open arms when he arrived from Singapore. The Hong Kong that voted him Most Popular Jockey. The Hong Kong that established him almost overnight as an international superstar jockey.
It was like being used and discarded by a two timing lover. It hurt. Anything to do with losing “face” in Hong Kong is seen as an insult. A real slap in the face. There’s more…
Perhaps without the utter dominance of Joao Moreira the playing field this season is far more level. It may or may not have helped extremely good, and often under-utilised Hong Kong born riders like Derek Leung and Vincent Ho, stand and deliver. There seem to be more opportunities for them. Maybe they’ve improved during the off season? Vincent Ho, for example, who spent part of the off season riding in the UK, delivered a quartet of winners at Sha Tin on Saturday. The first in his career. The rides were first class.
Meanwhile, Karis Teetan is being seen by many as “the new magic man in training”. He followed up his five winners the week before with another three winners. The popular Mauritian seems to be in a rush to seize the day. And sees the opportunity to graduate to the big league.
What about Zac Purton? He’s seemingly chilled. No doubt watching from the sidelines to see how things unfold. Throwing the odd cat amongst the pigeons on Twitter to see how far the squawking travels.
It’s all quite a Daliesque picture being painted. A weird mixture of “All About Eve”, “High Noon”, and “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly”. And “Mean Girls”.
What might be going through Joao Moreira’s mind? Probably plenty.
Though he’s more than proven he can mix it with the best in Japan- meaning only Christophe Lemaire- with always the possibility of riding some of the best equine talent in the country and winning on them overseas, there’s the question of what’s best for his wife Taciana and their two young sons.
Is living in Japan what’s best for them? With its “usual” earth tremors? There always being the threat of an earthquake? They’re no longer in Kansas, Toto. Nor are they in São Paulo. Nor Singapore. Certainly not Hong Kong.
Then there’s the schooling for his kids to think about. Getting into a good English language school. In Japan? That’s another obstacle to overcome.
Knowing something about the inner workings of Japan- a wonderful place to visit and with some of the loveliest people in the world, brilliant for shopping and with a couple of the best international Rock Festivals- it’s a tough place to ever call home. Unless married to a Japanese. It’s the language thing.
What’s next? The HKJC has always maintained that as long as Joao Moreira submits an application for a license to ride in Hong Kong like everyone else, this will be judged on its own merits. Fair enough. But there’s first a hurdle for the Magic Man to make disappear: His current contract with the JRA ends on December 9. The HKJC Licensing Committee decides on all new applications before then.
There’s a possible new “point of entry” for Joao Moreira: stable jockey to John Size. John Size having always been his most loyal supporter. The two were like Batman and Robin. The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Milli and Vanilli. A mutual admiration society.
IF this could happen- and maybe it’s too big an If- it really should be a win win situation for the major players involved in this horse opera.
Having an internationally recognised marquee value name back in the Hong Kong jockey ranks? Someone who has always been giving of his time to the media? An extremely good ambassador for racing? Very media friendly? For myself, the only marketable jockey in the world with sponsorship appeal?
With everyone’s pride restored and intact, it could be a big win for Hong Kong racing. But as in any reconciliation, both sides must want it to work. Must really want it to happen.
If there still exists ill feelings, these will keep surfacing. Again and again. Like trying to kickstart any broken relationship. They very seldom get better the second time around. This means that it just wasn’t meant to be. End of story. And everyone went to their separate corners and lived happily ever after.
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