• Alan Aitken

Lost in the Valley - has the Magic Man's championship slipped away?


There "should" be a fairly simple equation to determining the Hong Kong jockey championship in any season - whoever has the best figures at Sha Tin, should be the winner.

In any normal Hong Kong season, a tick over 50 per cent of the races are run on the turf at Sha Tin, around 37 per cent are run at Happy Valley, with the rest on the all-weather track.

And, over the entirety of Joao Moreira's time in Hong Kong, it has been established that he has the edge on Zac Purton on the main track, while the Australian is the king at Happy Valley.

But a more reasonable comparison is from the start of the 2014-15 season, when Purton was the newly-crowned first-time champion and Moreira had enjoyed a blazing Hong Kong debut as runner-up.

From that moment, they have enjoyed a similar status, that has fluctuated due to circumstances and made one the champion ahead of the other but they have been seen as the only rival to each other.

And you can more clearly see Purton's narrow edge playing out at Happy Valley in that time while Moreira has held the throne at the main course.

In simple terms, Moreira should be able to get the better of Purton.

He is much lighter than the Australia, which is always expected to count for something in terms of ride choices.

For Purton, a little under half the field in most races is out of his weight range - he has had only five mounts under 120 pounds this season - while Moreira is available for everything from 113 pounds to 133 pounds.

The Brazilian has the strong backing of perennial trainers' championship favourite, John Size, a veritable winner factory.

And he has those superior numbers on his side at Sha Tin, where the most races are contested.

So, with very little between them, 2 months of the season to run and around 96 races still on the main track at Sha Tin, around 56 at Happy Valley and probably another 14 on the dirt - where Moreira also holds sway - that should statistically forecast the Brazilian to take back the title he last won in 2017, even though he trails by one

But this is a season which has all but slipped away from Moreira despite his edges.

The long term percentage of lighter weighted winners - carrying under 120 pounds - is down slightly, Size is having a poor season by his lofty standards, and the gap between the two riders has narrowed at Sha Tin and widened significantly at Happy Valley.

Purton has lost 4 days through suspension, Moreira 5, so that factor is negligible. and their actual ride numbers - the percentage of the available races they have a ride in is actually quite similar, despite their difference in body weight.

Both Moreira and Purton have a ride in around 90 per cent of the races run at Sha Tin on turf, both have rides in around 85 per cent of the Happy Valley races.

So that makes it tempting to extrapolate their performances this campaign into a final score. Of course, injury or suspension could play a part too - although suspensions currently are limited at 1 day due to the restrictions imposed by Covid19 - but it's still a temptation too good to resist.

On the table below, I've translated their regular riding frequency into the likely number of rides for each on the three tracks and used their season's percentage strike rates to produce a forecast wins still to come.


And despite Moreira having the lead at Sha Tin and many more races still to come there, Purton closing the Sha Tin gap and widening the Happy Valley margin over his arch rival has been the difference in the season and leads to a final score forecast of Purton, taking his 1-win lead into account, taking the championship by that margin. Ok, 1.2 wins if you want to be pedantic but how that 0.2 of a win happens is hard to imagine.

Regardless, it is going to make for a nail-biter of a championship that goes right to the last meeting, perhaps even the last race. A meeting at Purton's Happy (Valley) hunting ground on July 15.


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