Expats staying away as local riders rise to prominence

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 July, 2010, 12:00am

No season review five years ago would have forecast the changing landscape of Hong Kong's jockey colony to resemble the situation as we close the door on this season.

In 2004-05, wins by Chinese jockeys accounted for 64 races from the season programme of 710 contests.

The quality of the expats had simply buried the local riders, owners had abandoned them for the big-name foreigners and the way ahead looked grim, with the juniors of that time looking mostly battlers.

Five years on, the foreign riders have been getting some of their own medicine.

Yes, perpetual weight allowances for local riders, introduced in 2005-06, were an immediate and continuing game changer but many have observed, some even complained this season that the conveyor belt of capable apprentices claiming 10 pounds has starved them of opportunities.

Some of the popular foreigners of the recent past have left, the best 'senior jockey' rides are gravitating to Douglas Whyte, Brett Prebble and others at the very top of the table, and the remaining chances directed to local jockeys.

As a result, 2009-10 saw 272 wins for the locals from 767 races and, most importantly, the squeeze applied to all but the most prominent expats with a number of the newer claimers tallying wins in the 20-30 region.

While the quality of them, and of the now-senior ranked Matthew Chadwick, bode well for local content in years to come, it is also proving a landscape changer in itself - once again the club has struggled to attract fresh, high-profile foreign riders for next season.

Applications have dwindled to nothing, perhaps with many of the most obvious candidates concluding that Prebble and Whyte have 200 winners wrapped up and you can throw in another 50 each for the next few jockeys on the table.

That means riders will come here only to scrap for less than half of the season's available rides, with these young jockeys holding a serious advantage in their weight claims and a cultural edge in dealing with owners and trainers.

In the coming season, Vincent Ho Chak-yiu is going to become the newest strong apprentice force and there is talk of Alvin Ng Ka-chun, now showing considerable promise riding in New Zealand, commencing his career here before too long.

Meanwhile, the top apprentices from this year aren't going away in a hurry. They are showing a little bit more talent than some previous groups of juniors and, as they mature, they are going to ensure this squeeze continues. Some of the victims will be the lower profile locals, but only the top expats will hold their own, too.

What's wrong with that? Well, when local riders were struggling there was a very good argument for helping them as racing needs local heroes as well as the expat stars. But it is the mix that is important.

The local juniors take an education from riding against the foreigners, so a continued strong expat presence is desirable for their development. The question now is whether that presence will go on in the same vein as previously, especially if some of the established names decide to depart, as the supply of foreign newcomers is clearly drying up.

Claim well used

Apprentices start their careers in Hong Kong with an allowance of this many pounds: 10




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