Baster granted quick leave

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2001, 12:00am

Australian jockey Stephen Baster will turn around and head home from Hong Kong racing tonight - but not because of any breakdown in his contract with trainer Alex Wong Siu-tan. With Wong's blessing, Baster will take a couple of days leave of absence in the hope of snaring a prestigious award.

Baster was based in Melbourne before arriving in the territory last week to join Wong, a retainer he gained after a breakdown in the relationship between the Wong Siu-tan stable and the original appointment, South African Francois Naude.

The Scobie Breasley Medal is awarded each year to the rider showing the most consistently-good form in Victoria and Baster is in the running to win it after a career-best season.

'I think I'll be in the first three and when you're that close, you never know,' said Baster, who had 76 winners from 53 meetings. 'I can't be confident because I missed three months of the racing this season through suspensions, but these types of awards - judged on a week-by-week basis over the whole year - often finish with a bit of a surprise. For instance, Damien Oliver missed a lot of the previous season but was only narrowly beaten by Brett Prebble for the Scobie.'

Melbourne's championship winner, Prebble, is again favourite to take the award, with Baster and Oliver his strongest rivals. Baster will fly out tonight and return on Thursday in time for the new season's first grass barrier trials on Saturday morning.