Saint-Martin goes out with guns blazing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2009, 12:00am

An unrepentant Eric Saint-Martin plans to quit riding after failing yesterday at his second 'show cause' hearing before the Hong Kong Jockey Club's licensing committee.

Saint-Martin's 15 brilliant seasons in Hong Kong have been punctuated with running battles with authority and he survived a show cause in February after an improper riding charge late last year, but the latest infraction arising from a charge of failing to obey a stewards' directive was a bridge too far for the committee.

The 43-year-old Frenchman had been requested to act as a witness at a careless riding inquiry at Sha Tin early last month but returned to his apartment next to the course. Upon his return to the inquiry, dressed in beachwear, stewards were unimpressed with his jovial response when asked why he had left and he was fined HK$20,000 for misconduct and stood down from riding.

Saint-Martin later pleaded guilty to a rule breach and was suspended for one month. At the same time, he submitted his application to return for next season.

The winner of 431 races in Hong Kong, Saint-Martin said yesterday he had planned to retire at the end of this season in any case but was disappointed at its conclusion.

'A groin injury has been bothering me again lately, I think physically another season was not possible, and I had already decided to finish and return to my businesses in France,' he said. 'But I am very disappointed at how this has been handled - what they have shown me is the Jockey Club is totalitarian rule and they don't give a f**k about anyone. That's why people don't want to come and ride here any more.

'They could have allowed me to finish the season - as it is, I have to wait for my children to finish school before we leave - but it was a matter of face to them, to sack me rather than end it nicely. After so many years, it was hard. I never did drugs. I never pulled up any horse. Still they treat me like a criminal.

'They don't communicate with the jockeys, they don't talk to you - you are expected to keep in step the same as everyone else, regimented. But nobody can tell me how to live - if I had to do it all again, I would. I always hold my ground.'

Saint-Martin's ejection from the jockey roster and the inclusion of two new riders for next season, South African Greg Cheyne, 32, and Australian William Pike, 23, were the main news items to emerge from yesterday's committee hearing.

Apart from Saint-Martin and Mark du Plessis - who had previously announced he would not apply - the only current jockey not among next season's licensees is local freelancer Paul Lo Pak-hin, while the club gave the green light for Kevin Leung Ka-wai to join Me Tsui Yu-sak's stable as a 10-pound claimer.

Cheyne, a winner of over 1,000 races including six Group Ones, is sitting third on the South African championship and leading the Eastern Cape championship, a title he has won twice. He has advised a riding weight of 114 pounds, as has the 'boy wonder' of racing in Western Australia, Pike. Emerging from a successful apprenticeship to become Perth's champion rider, Pike has won over 750 races, two Group Ones, and is heading for another Perth title this season.