Jockeys face tough grilling over Mile tactics
Lawrence Wadey and Alan Aitken in Sydney
A wide-ranging Hong Kong Jockey Club inquiry is set for a week Friday or Saturday following remarks attributed to jockey Greg Childs after his success in Sunday's showpiece $10 million Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin.
Childs' mount Sunline defeated local hero Fairy King Prawn by a short head in the Group One event, having benefited from a slow pace during the early stages. Childs was then quoted in an article by Darren Prendergast in Australia's Sydney Morning Herald as saying he had spoken about race tactics beforehand with Justin Sheehan, who rode third-placed Adam in the Mile. Sheehan and Adam sat on Sunline's outside for much of the race but this positioning appeared no more than fortuitous despite them causing interference, for which Sheehan was suspended, in the process of obtaining that position in the first 200 metres of this race, which was televised around the world.
Yesterday the Jockey Club's director of racing, Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, confirmed: 'It is difficult to co-ordinate dates with all the relevant parties as it takes time to get them to Hong Kong. For this reason it looks as if an inquiry will be held after Christmas but we very much hope to hold it before the New Year. At this stage I'd say we will be having an inquiry on December 29 or December 30. The sooner we can do it the better as we have the type of full international exposure we absolutely didn't want.'
Engelbrecht-Bresges went on to stress: 'We are taking the matter very seriously. Both jockeys are aware of the situation but we are still trying to contact Darren Prendergast.'
Chief stipendiary steward John Schreck, who will head the likely race-meeting stewards inquiry, will today begin discussions with the rest of his panel. He confirmed that any inquiry would also involve contacting other jockeys, such as the South Africans Weichong Marwing and Basil Marcus. Both are thought to be back in South Africa for Christmas.
Marwing and Marcus are being sought as they rode Billion Win and Charming City, who were two of the horses affected by Sheehan's careless riding on Adam. Schreck said: 'We will always revisit a case whenever new evidence comes to light. That is the way the system works. Any inquiry into this whole matter must be very thorough and seen to be very thorough which is why we are trying to contact Marwing and Marcus as well as Childs and Sheehan.'
Schreck had earlier written to all jockeys participating in the International Races, asking them for their co-operation in not causing interference and warning them not to turn the meeting into 'an international bad joke'.
The Sydney Morning Herald is standing by Prendergast's quotes from Childs. These are: 'I spoke to Justin and said, 'Look we can't cut each other's throat and challenge for the lead'. Justin agreed. I told him to follow me. He knew Adam wouldn't have been able to beat Sunline, she is world-class, but it worked out perfectly for everyone. As Justin said afterwards, Adam running third and the prize money it won, was like winning.'
Childs has emphatically denied making these remarks. However, informed sources say they stem from comments made informally by Childs in front of several Australian journalists in a Hong Kong hotel.
But the Sydney Morning Herald is to publish a clarification of Prendergast's report. The clarification, due to appear in this morning's edition, says: 'In an article on the Hong Kong Mile horserace, Darren Prendergast misinterpreted comments made by winning jockey Greg Childs as an admission by Childs that he had devised a race plan with another jockey, Justin Sheehan. . . . Childs made no such admission. The Herald apologises to Childs and Sheehan for any embarrassment caused.'