DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- They call Joao Moreira "The Magic Man" at his home base in Hong Kong, and on Saturday night, Moreira made a Japanese mare named Vivlos appear out of thin air to win the $6 million Dubai Turf.
Shuffled back nearly to last a half-furlong before the straightway, Moreira clung to the inside fence, waiting and waiting, got through at about the quarter pole, urged his willing mount forward along the rail until it was clear that his room would run out, and then - voila! - popped five paths outside and suddenly came into full view. Vivlos felt the magic. She surged powerfully outside the three horses still in front of her and zipped across the wire a half-length in front of Heshem.
"This is what I love to do!" a jubilant, muddy Moreira exclaimed on the way back to get his picture taken.
Vivlos, a 4-year-old filly by Deep Impact and out of the Machiavellian mare Hawla Sweet, got a 4.4-pound weight allowance from her male rivals but without doubt won on her merits -- with help from her remarkable pilot. Racing over a yielding course, Vivlos ran 1,800 meters, or about 1 1/8 miles, in 1:50.20 while becoming the third Japanese horse in four years to win the Dubai Turf. The Irish-bred, France-based Heshem ran the race of his life to finish second, a half-length in front of Ribchester, with Zarak another 1 3/4 lengths behind in fourth.
Ribchester, breaking from post 1 in the one-turn race, made the early lead over Very Special, who displaced Ribchester down the long backstretch run to lead the field into the turn. Mutakayyef stalked on the outside, with Zarak perfectly pocketed and Vivlos near the rear of the pack.
Ribchester surged outside Very Special as the field turned for home, powering to the front as Zarak tried to get up on his heels and Heshem came around a one-paced Mutakayyef. But the central action was taking place behind that bunch and along the inside, where Moreira urgently threw his reins at an accelerating Vivlos, who responded in kind, moving out as she moved forward, eventually coming around Heshem and coming home to victory.
Jockey Gregory Benoist aboard Heshem conceded that his mount had surpassed expectations but rued the rain-softened ground that he believes hurt his chances.
Ribchester, making his first start since October, stayed on well enough to suggest that he could be more than merely a miler.
"I think he showed he stays," said jockey William Buick. "He'll come on a lot from this start."
Zarak, meanwhile, could not find the spot between Ribchester and Mutakayyef that jockey Christophe Soumillon appeared to want, dropped down to the rail, and could not keep up late. Soumillon already had won two races on the night, but in this one, he could not match The Magic Man.