Maia leads on 45 victories and is 14 wins ahead of his nearest rival Luis Corrales, with another five wins back to Peter Ho in third spot on 26 winners.With 136 winners in Macau in just over two years, Maia dominates the riding ranks in the enclave with the 30-year-old aiming to broaden his horizons in due course by riding in Hong Kong and Singapore.
But for now it’s business as usual for the natural lightweight, as he remains fully focused on his second Macau Jockeys’ Championship.With two meetings postponed last weekend due to severe rainstorms that deluged Macau, there are 27 race days left for the season.
Doing the math Luis Corrales - a four time Macau champion - would need to ride four winners a month from here to the end of the season and Maia ride none at all to get home with a two win margin.That won’t happen as Maia is in great demand by owners and trainers and on average at least 50 percent of his rides start favourite.
He is on target to surpass his tally of 60 winners from last season with his winning strike rate of a 22% and 54% for a place slightly up on 2018.Maia is following in the footsteps of other Brazilian jockeys who have stamped themselves as champion riders worldwide.
The likes of Joao Moreira, Silvestre de Souza and Manoel Nunes have all gone on to be multiple champions in Singapore, the UK, Hong Kong and Macau.Ruan Maia’s story mirrors that of the above names in that his beginnings as a jockey were almost identical to them.
Born in the seaside city of Paranagua, Maia grew up on a small farm where he learned to ride at a very young age.“In my family there are four children. My parents had a small place and had some horses so it was natural for me to ride,” he said.
“Like most families in Brazil it’s a struggle to survive, we were not a wealthy family and the life was very simple.”None of Maia’s family had an interest in horse racing and it was by chance that a racehorse owner suggested he might like to try life as a jockey.
“I was very small and he knew that I had been riding since I was a kid so he took me to the races at Curitiba,” Maia said.“I liked it very much and I started with the Jockey Club in Curitiba. I stayed three months before I was accepted into the famous Sao Paulo Apprentice School.
“I was only 17 years old then. It was a very hard school and you have to be tough to survive it, but it makes you strong and determined.“If you are not successful and you cannot get your required winners after two years, you are out of there.”
Sao Paulo has one the toughest graduation marks of any Apprentice Academy in the world. If an apprentice does not get the required 100 winners in two years he does not graduate.After graduating from the Sao Paulo Academy Maia stayed at the track for 10 years winning 360 races including four G1 wins, two G2 and three G3 victories.
He then decided it was time to follow other Brazilian jockeys to Asia, taking a path set by jockeys like Eurico Rosa Da Silva, Manoel Nunes, Fausto Durso and Joao Moreira.Maia arrived in Macau in December 2016. He had no stable contract and no promise of rides, just a freelance jockeys’ licence coupled with a steely determination and hunger to succeed.
It took Maia 19 rides before he booted home his first winner in Macau on God Get People for trainer Stanley Chin.However it was still tough going and it was and three months before Maia started making people sit up and take notice as the winners started rolling in.
Like most of the Brazilian riders we’ve seen Maia is a superb horseman.On two occasions in Macau he has pulled off something that is best described as nothing short of a miracle to win races.
The first was on Alan Tam’s favourite Cheerful Companion in April 2017.Approaching the home turn his saddle slipped abruptly to the near side leaving Maia with his right foot perched high on the horse’s wither and his left foot caught in the stirrup dangling down near the girth.
Remaining as cool as ever Maia untangled his right foot and then proceeded to ride bareback, pulling the whip and storming down the outside to snatch victory on the line.The second occasion was just a few months later on another favorite, the KH Leong-trained Pearl Green.
Maia was following the well fancied Master Of Cheers when that horse shifted out in front of him abruptly. Pearl Green clipped heels, dipped badly and was lucky to stay on his feet with Maia losing both irons.Again riding bareback he picked the horse up and drove him between runners, even managing to switch the whip from right to left hand before hitting the line for a strong win.
Maia and his wife Erica Calheiros have settled in well to the Macau racing scene and the lifestyle in the former Portuguese colony.“We really love Macau, it’s such a lovely safe place,” he said.
“The people are just great and I’m very grateful to the owners and trainers for the opportunity they give me. I just want to ride more winners and improve myself.”