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  • Writer's pictureAlan Aitken

How close can Joao & Zac get to a rematch in 2018-19?

Last season, Zac Purton and Joao Moreira staged one of the great championship stoushes of all time with just two separating the riders at the finish.

It's fair to say their rivalry has been a highlight of the last five seasons in Hong Kong, something we all thought was lost to the scene when Moreira preferred Japan - until he hit a regulatory hurdle in his bid to compete there full time.

Sans Moreira, this jockeys' championship was looming as a predictable cake walk for Purton, despite the best efforts of Karis Teetan and Co.

But, when Moreira returns as the stable rider for John Size next month, all interest will centre on how his new job changes the dynamics of the Purton-Moreira match-up and whether Joao can give Zac a start and beat him or even just give him a run for his money.

Moreira rides at Sha Tin this Sunday as a one-off but then rides the Longines HKIR showpiece meeting on the final day of his current Japan contract, so we should consider December 9 the start of his time in Hong Kong again. So, we're looking at potentially 63 meetings.

A simple look at the past figures of Moreira and Purton would suggest that, even giving Purton what will probably be about 34 wins head start by then, it is not beyond the Brazilian to win the title.

He wasn't able to do it in 2013-14, when Moreira's full time Hong Kong career commenced in late October but, as you can see, that was also his worst season here - "only" 97 wins and his lowest strike rate after a campaign pock-marked by suspensions. Little did we suspect then that he would soon be beating Purton by 50-88 wins and cementing in a strike rate of over 24 per cent as his norm.

You look at those subsequent years and a head start of 34 wouldn't have been much more than a wave of the wand for the Magic Man to overcome.

So, let's look at how many wins we might predict from both jockeys this season if we extrapolate past figures.

First, Purton, who has made a solid, standard start to the season, as we see here with his tallies at Race 173 (the first race on Wednesday) in recent seasons.

Which is helpful but the season is much longer than 172 races, so we need to look at how many rides we might expect Purton to have between now and the end of the season and then his likely win rate.

So, now these are Zac's figures above for the "Moreira years" plus the start of this term and you can see how his seasons were impacted in 2014-15 and 2015-16 by missing meetings, mainly through injuries and suspensions. So, under available rides, we have the number of races on the days that he was in action - potentially all races in which he could have had rides but we see to the right of that the actual mounts he had as a percentage of the possible number and, basically, if there were 100 races available, Purton would average a ride in about 83 of them. Over those years, he won 18.4 per cent of his rides.

With 172 races down this season, that means about 635 races to go and, using the same calculations, we might expect Purton to ride in 527 of them at his usual rate. If that were the case, we could forecast about 136 wins.

But, to get to that figure, I've used 20 pr cent as his win rate - since last season and his current form seems a more realistic asessment of where he is now than the 18.4 per cent - and I've also used the 660-ride figure. That presupposes no injuries or suspensions - an unlikely scenario. If we assumed at least another 2-4 meetings missed, that would be about 40 fewer rides and about 8 fewer wins. So let's call his season 128 wins. Sure, there are so many possible unseen influences but let's make that the number.

Could Joao Moreira pull back that many winners between the start of December and the season's end?

Well, let's look at the same calculations with the Brazilian - and then look at why that calculation is probably wrong.

Along the same lines in the table below, Moreira's history as a club rider saw him with mounts in 94 % of the races on the days when he rode, and a strike rate of 23 % across those races. As a straight calculation, assuming Moreira will have missed 25 meetings by the time he starts, he could have about 550 mounts and, even if we dial down his strike slightly to 22 % that is 122 wins.

Again, that is going to be impacted, in all likelihood, by injury or suspensions but we also need to look at what limits Moreira as a retained jockey that did not limit him as a club rider.

Ironically, one of the penalties will be for riding light, something often touted as a natural edge he held over Purton previously.

Here's why.

Once upon a time, when retainerships were the norm rather than the rarity they have become, there were all sorts of rules in place to restrict the number of rides a jockey could have outside of the yard that signed him. Those rules, designed to combat skulduggery via the betting windows, made it tougher for a jockey to be champion rider unless he was retained by the trainer who also won the championship.

That changed when Darren Beadman (right)

came in to ride for John Moore in 2007, with most of the shackles removed by the club in hopes that Beadman could might offer the perennial champion Douglas Whyte some more opposition.

If Moore didn't have runners, Beadman wasn't left twiddling his thumbs on the sofa at home, he could take outside rides without limit.

But when there are clashes, the better side of a retainership lies with heavier jockeys, who are not as tied to the sponsoring stable.

Riders are required to ride 75 % of the retaining trainer's runners, over time, but are able to take a mount in opposition to their retaining stable under certain circumstances - they can't make the weight of the stable runner/s; the trainer prefers to make use of an allowance with a local or apprentice jockey; or there are owners within the stable who have made it clear, in writing, that they are not part of the retainership and do not commit to the jockey riding their horse.

All three of those conditions are probably redundant when it comes to Moreira's partnership with John Size. First, Moreira rides light, so he is eligible for all stable mounts. Second, Size makes little use of claims - as you see in the table left - less than 9 % of his 2017-18 runners had a claim and fewer than 6 % in the season prior. I could go back further but it won't show much that is different. Size has always preferred senior riders and preferably the top ones and that means no claims. And, finally,a split within the ranks of Size's owners regarding Moreira's suitability as stable rider seems unlikely.

On face value, that means Moreira may be forced to ride the 50-1 chances as well as the 2-1 chances from the Size yard in his commitment to ride 75 % of the stable runners (more than 300 mounts), and that could impact his win rate. Of course, there are routes around it and maybe we will see Size use claiming riders more often for horses which are not ready or have reached their mark. That would free up the Magic Man to take a better ride in the same race, but it is still something of brake on his ability to keep up the stunning success rate we saw from him as a club jockey when the only driver for his ride selection was trying to win more races.

Naturally, Size's tally has limitations too - he won 87 races last season and a record 95 wins two seasons ago. On the plus side, from next month Size's capped stable strength, as one of the nine Conghua trainers, will be permitted to rise from 60 to 70 horses, and presumably Purton's yield from Size - never that large anyway - will drop to zero when Moreira arrives.

So we've estimated 122 wins for Moreira - without accounting for the unknowns of injury and suspensions - so that still leaves Purton comfortably clear.

But the restraints of the new scenario on Moreira are harder to assess than it is to estimate a tally for Purton, whose situation has not changed. And it only takes a 5 per cent margin for error with each side to make it another grandstand finish.

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