Club denies Munce case will chase jockeys away

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 March, 2007, 12:00am

Jockey Club officials have dismissed the notion that Chris Munce's conviction will further frighten international riders away from Hong Kong with the roster already under pressure.

Munce was sentenced to 30 months' jail after being found guilty under the Bribery Ordinance of passing tips on horses he rode last season to businessmen in exchange for the placing of bets on his behalf. In the most recent licensing committee meeting to decide licences for the final three months of this season, no new rider was licensed for the period after March 25, and no additional permits have been issued despite Christophe Soumillon and Andrasch Starke cutting short their tours in the past week.

'I can't deny that the volume of applications has decreased, though I wouldn't say alarmingly so,' said licensing committee secretary Kim Kelly. 'The Munce situation will likely have an impact short term but I don't expect more than that. At the end of the day, jockeys who ride within the rules are not afraid to be here.'

Money to be gained from having 'punters' was once regarded as a reason for foreign jockeys to ride in Hong Kong, but club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges believes those days are long past.

'As a professional, there has to be a certain set of rules you work under,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said. 'Perhaps the possibility of having punters was a major attraction once, but before my time at the Jockey Club and, then as now, it was regarded as unacceptable. There is a risk that the Munce decision could act as a deterrent but, if jockeys stay clear of the kind of situation which has been painted in this case, there is no reason to fear being part of Hong Kong racing.'

Kelly said the reasons for falling applications were manifold. 'Years ago, prize money here was much better than somewhere like Dubai, which has now emerged as a magnet for riders, and access was easier than to Japan, which is now more open,' he said.

'Another problem, which has always been there with the northern hemisphere where retainers to big owners are common, is that now even in South Africa and Australia, jockeys become like quasi-retained jockeys to the powerful stables and aren't prepared to leave without a guarantee of success. There are no guarantees here and people aren't as willing to uproot their families as they were.'

Engelbrecht-Bresges added the club would work to ensure applicants knew the circumstances of the Munce case.

'News travels fast but not always accurately, and we will be explaining to potential candidates exactly what has happened,' he said.'