Kinane revels in riding refresher at 'second home'
Sports, like religions, have their pilgrimages and renewals that keep the faithful assured that times may come and go but some things continue to provide the foundations for whatever it is they believe.
And when Irish jockey Michael Kinane brought home a Happy Valley double on Wednesday night like he had never been away, one of Hong Kong racing's most remarkable constants began anew.
This is Kinane's 16th annual visit to Hong Kong. A good number in any circumstances, to be sure, but rather more notable for the fact that, as one of the world's great jockeys over the past 20 years, Kinane needs neither the money nor the practice but keeps returning.
One of the rare talents to have over a century of Group One winners, let alone the thousands of minor ones, Kinane forsakes riding better horses on better racetracks for a month or so each season to take a 'refresher' in Hong Kong.
'It's my second home. I've got some great memories in Hong Kong, some great friends and really it's the only place in the world I've ever looked to go away to and ride. I have to come for my annual fix and I think it does my riding good, always has,' Kinane said. 'It's very competitive here and it keeps you sharp, so I've found it the best place to start my year. During the winter off-season at home, I have six or seven weeks off racing but I do stay very active and very fit, hunting and shooting.
'I wouldn't say I come here unfit or rusty - I've usually ridden somewhere else before I arrive and I've just had two weeks in Dubai - but I feel riding here gets me up to speed before I start again at home.'
The classics in Europe and around the globe are the focus from Kinane's lofty position, and he is usually well-heeled for the majors in Hong Kong, too, but the rider finds it almost refreshing that his reputation means nothing when it comes to getting rides on lower-grade horses here. 'The drop in grade of horse is important. It makes you appreciate the great horses much more,' he explains.
He's been coming since 1986-87 season, usually on a brief basis, and Kinane's double for David Oughton and Sean Woods brought his tally to 161 wins. 'A good start in Hong Kong is important so it was great to win a couple, especially one for David. We've been good friends for a long time, he's been having a quiet season and it would be nice to think that in the next few weeks I could win a few more for him,' Kinane said.
'When we won the Hong Kong Cup together with Precision, that was the greatest day I've had in Hong Kong, no doubt. Precision seems to be coming back to himself now, too, so hopefully he'll be on the shortlist for the Gold Cup here.'
Late last year, Kinane was replaced by Jamie Spencer in the best riding job in the United Kingdom - first jockey for Aidan O'Brien - and there were those who wondered if perhaps the Irishman would look at something longer in Hong Kong.
'I can't say I really gave any thought to it. I picked up the job for John Oxx and that was the job I had always wanted, outside of the one that I had, so that was the natural progression of my career. I like to come here for my five or six weeks, and I've never thought of doing it another way. I like to live in Europe and I like to have the freedom to travel when I want to. So I'm happy with things at the moment.'