Young guns still need to learn ropes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2011, 12:00am


Who was the mid-table trainer who stood up at the trainers' meeting with Jockey Club officials on Friday and complained that all trainers didn't have whatever access they liked to boom apprentice Alvin Ng Ka-chun? Our spies - who were queuing up to relate the matter due to the personalities involved - say that there was even a demand for rules to be changed.

Perhaps it was a case of being run over by the karma bus as, when the same gentleman had an in-demand claiming apprentice a few seasons ago, other trainers complained then that outside access to that young rider seemed quite restricted. Other shoes, other feet.

Ng opened his season's account for David Hall on Master Key in what will likely be the first of perhaps 40 wins and he will simply blitz the other apprentices for the junior title. With almost 900 rides behind him, Ng is probably riding at the level of a well-advanced, five-pound claimer but with a 10-pound allowance.

While the stampede for his services on fancied runners will remain in place for some time, Sunday also showed claimers are a mixed blessing even while they are good value. Watch enough racing and video replays and you will notice the differences in the reactions of horses to the touch of a Douglas Whyte or Brett Prebble versus the touch of a junior. Horses are under less pressure, slower to react when asked and it really comes down to a question of their own willingness to respond. If they are willing, then the 10 pounds comes into play.

And then there is the tactical aspect.

During last season, John Size - who has, throughout his career, used top senior riders almost to the exclusion of claiming apprentices - did come to some kind of accommodation with Keith Yeung Ming-lun last season, giving him 60-odd rides but his back-handed compliment for the lad was a telling critique of the difference between junior and senior jockeys: 'He seems to know what's going on in his races, which surprised me.'

There was absolutely nothing at all wrong with what Ng did on Bear Hero - in fact, a copybook ride. But that was the problem and what he did do paradoxically cost the horse his race.

By doing the simple thing, the predictable thing, crossing to the rail and taking the box seat, he allowed Douglas Whyte to take the tactical high ground and do whatever he wanted to do on King Mossman. And what he wanted to do was get a soft lead, pull up in the favourite's face, just to make sure Bear Hero knew he was in among horses for the first time in his life, then kick strongly for the line while Ng was still bobbing up and down getting Bear Hero to realise it was time to go. Then he then had to pull back the margin on King Mossman, no slouch himself and a year older, during the fastest part of the race.

Whyte on Bear Hero and drawn inside his only two dangers in King Mossman and Aerosa, would have imposed his will on the field knowing he was on the best horse, rather than be a victim to someone else's plan.

Yes, Ng may well ride 40 winners this season and is promising, but that doesn't mean he doesn't still have the L-plates on. He gets the claim for a reason and is on a steep learning curve if he is to compete with the Whytes and Prebbles once you take that crutch away.