Limited options for licensing committee

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:00am


Friday's licensing committee meeting has not only to consider the licensing of jockeys for the second half of the season, but the thorny question of diversity that so often intrudes into simply doing the best available job.

We don't anticipate anything changes among the Chinese riders after half-time and the expatriate licences for the most part look predictable, but there are some gaps to be filled.

It is expected James McDonald will be licensed, the New Zealander's second placing in the Cathay Pacific International Jockeys' Championship in December sufficient to ensure he gets an invitation, and after that there seems some guesswork to how the roster will look.

Australian jockeys continue to compete well here since the racing is so similar in Hong Kong, and someone like Melbourne's Craig Newitt, light, strong and talented, would be an ideal candidate for a licence, however, that would further concentrate the riding pool.

Brett Prebble, Darren Beadman, Zac Purton and Tye Angland are all well established and Tim Clark is a big success in progress, who has done more than enough for an extension, but the Chinese-language media strongly resist having too many riders from one country and there does seem to be a push back on the concept of bringing more Australians at an official level, too.

But where does the club go now for a diverse line-up?

North American jockeys are a no, English riders are largely uninterested - though the whip-rule changes there last year and the fines and bans that followed brought a brief flurry of interest from UK-based riders looking for an escape plan - and name European riders appear only to be interested in a working holiday through the winter.

South American racing is poverty stricken, but most of the talents there tend to gravitate to the United States rather than Asia, with the exceptions of Joao Moreira and Manoel Nunes. Maybe Italian jockeys are the hope of the side, with the whole industry verging on collapse there. Mirco Demiro and Nicola Pinna have been successful riding in Japan in recent years, but we don't know if they even apply for Hong Kong and they don't have too much trouble finding good work in Europe closer to home.

So, where are we? Already we know the departures: Neil Callan is returning to ride in Great Britain, Greg Cheyne will move on to Singapore and that Brett Doyle departs for Dubai.

Of course, Maxime Guyon was never staying here after his contract runs its course on February 19 and, perhaps in the circumstances, he will be only too pleased to be back in France. Guyon's stint this time has been best described so far as character-building, a much-detested but necessary part of becoming a champion, if that is what he is to become. That will leave us with Olivier Doleuze and Gerald Mosse left to sing the Marseillaise, and the days of keeping top French jockeys for the entire season also seem to be passing by, when it was not so long ago that there were as many as four or five at a time.

Jeff Lloyd's licence is up and his family in the process of moving to Australia's Gold Coast. Even if his request for an additional short-term club jockey licence meets with a favourable hearing - and that is by no means a given - Lloyd's time here is nearly done and the South African influence that has been such a major flavour to race riding here is also waning. Douglas Whyte will be the only South African and he is almost an honorary Hong Konger these days.

There is talk that popular rider Weichong Marwing will be back on the roster after Friday. That would not be entirely unexpected - the jockey did say last year, as he departed at the end of his most recent contract, that he had things to do at home but was hoping to be licensed again for the back half of this season.

One new name that might come up is Richard Fourie. The 26-year-old South African was known to be on the Jockey Club's target list two years ago but he preferred to stay at home while things were going well and he was tied up with the top stables of Justin Snaith.

Fourie remains one of the top South African riders but very publicly walked out on the Snaith job just before New Year following a blow-up over a feature-race ride and so may be at the point where a stint in Hong Kong might appeal to him, but further South African options look limited for the present.

It is also known the club has been keen to attract Moreira from Singapore, where he has been so dominant. The Brazilian is light enough to ride the bottom weights - an important consideration - but his licensing probably depends on whether he wants to roll the dice and leave behind being the big fish in the small pond for the tough job of becoming established here.