Handler Leung's second split with high profile foreign rider casts shadow on retainerships as world looks on
And then there were three - retainerships that is. This follows the recent - or is it imminent? - cancellation of the retainership between local handler Andy Leung Ting-wah and the accomplished English jockey Brett Doyle, who has had a torrid time of things so far this season.
Doyle is now back at home in Newmarket, England, trying to forget the 12-meeting suspension imposed following his ride on Speed Win in a Happy Valley sprint and hoping that when he fronts the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Licensing Committee in just over a week's time, he will be able to persuade them to grant him a Club jockey's licence.
In an ideal world, Doyle would love to be able to resume riding as a Club jockey from when his ban ends on November 5, though he is also well aware that there may not be a Club jockey vacancy until the beginning of February and even then he knows he is far from guaranteed to win the slot.
First of all he must explain to the Licensing Committee the completely out-of-character remarks attributed to him after he had his appeal dismissed against the Speed Win ban. Doyle was reported as stating there was no justice. The backdrop to this is that Doyle maintains he was not guilty as charged, and many good judges around town agree. But he lost his case and should have shut up and put up.
He bitterly regrets the publication of the remarks as he didn't mean there was no justice per se, just that he had been found to have breached Rule 131 (ii) and (iii) when he is convinced he hadn't transgressed.
He will certainly have to eat a very large slice of humble pie in front of the Licensing Committee and rightly so, because there certainly is justice for riders in Hong Kong with a number of appeals having been successful or partially successful in recent years. But it is also worth remembering that, hitherto, the former dual champion jockey of Dubai had been an unequivocal success story since first coming here as a Club jockey and then as Leung's retained rider.
Hopefully his overall record will count in his favour and sway the Licensing Committee. After all, it is proving enormously difficult to attract top-class riders here, especially those who can ride at a lightweight. Doyle is both - top-class and able to ride at 114 pounds. Ironically, he sweated down to that weight to ride Speed Win.
A number of observers have made the very reasonable point that Doyle would have had a better case if he had not agreed to the mutual cancellation of the retainership and forced Leung to sack him. Then he would have been in a very similar position to that which Irishman Jimmy Quinn found himself after Brian Kan Ping-chee gave him the old heave-ho last season. The Licensing Committee were very sympathetic to the plight Quinn found himself in and allowed him to remain.
As the retainership has officially ended by mutual consent it could be construed that Doyle has quit one job voluntarily, so why should he be given another, a prestige Club jockey position at that? However, this reading would be a rather one dimensional view of his retainership with Leung and not to take into account the huge pressure Doyle had been under the whole of the time he had ridden for this stable, which is perhaps most characterised by the number of betting plunges that occur on its horses. A more salient point may be that Doyle performed wonders to stay in the job for so long and with an almost untarnished record.
What's more, if Doyle had not agreed to the breakdown in the retainer, maybe Leung would not have sacked him but just marginalised him with fewer rides and poorer rides and then the situation would have been one unholy mess. The Licensing Committee will almost certainly be well aware of this and that could count in Doyle's favour.
At least by Doyle going down the mutual consent line there is a clean break for everyone and no ongoing messy situation that would do local racing no good.
As for Leung, should he be granted another retainership with the Australian jockey Mark de Montfort? It has become an open secret that Leung has been in contact with him for a week or two, rather than a day or two.
The argument here is a resounding no. During a similarly awful start to the season a couple of years back, he split with Irishman Richard Hughes. Now after another dreadful start he has split with Doyle. It is hard to think of two jockeys with whom it is easier to get along and it looks bad around the racing world for Hong Kong racing when these splits happen. Once is permissible, twice surely not. Leung has made his bed. Now he should be made to lie in it.
Former multiple champion John Moore was treated thus a couple of seasons ago and there can't be one rule for one and another for someone else. It's not as if there aren't a number of excellent riders at Leung's disposal.
How Doyle must rue the fact that he remained loyal to Leung at the end of last season and agreed to stay on as his stable jockey when he would have had a very strong case if he had put in for a Club jockey position. Loyalty? It has blown up in Doyle's face, through no fault of his own. Let's hope this is not the last seen out here of this most talented jockey.