Frustrated Guyon at the crossroads

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 February, 2012, 12:00am


French star Maxime Guyon's rush of blood on Sunday when he slapped Keith Yeung Ming-lun with the whip at the 150-metre mark was symptomatic of the pressures inherent in racing here.

He isn't the first and won't be the last to pop when things are tight. Eric Saint-Martin found himself in the same spot three times here, Brett Prebble has had a couple and Gerald Mosse gave Simon Yim Hin-keung a clout one night at Happy Valley.

Let's be fair, some of the young local lads in particular can lose track of the path their horse is taking when they put their heads down and backsides up to push one to the line, but there was nothing Yeung did that demanded retaliation. It was surely an outpouring of pent-up frustration.

In the twilight of Michael Kinane's magnificent career, he was still returning to Hong Kong to race during the winter and we loved his reply when asked why he bothered.

It wasn't like he was swamped with rides, or rode many winners during those stints or even rode important winners. And he didn't need the practice but he put himself through the little annoyances of a busman's holiday, riding trackwork and having to secure mounts. He said it kept him humble, grounded.

In Europe, riders like Kinane in his time, and now Guyon can be spoon-fed their glories and accept that as the norm. Time here can act as a reminder that the world doesn't owe you that, but maybe there was a limit to how much medicine Guyon could take.

He averaged better than three winners a week last year on all stages, so there must be a certain amount of frustration generated at winning only four times in almost two months here, especially with some 17 per cent of his rides finishing second.

But that is the mental aspect of Hong Kong which tests everyone - jockeys, trainers, owners, punters. Everyone has to be more patient and hold their nerve for longer than other jurisdictions when things aren't happening for them. With so few races, it slows the luck cycle right down.

And there would be a certain frustration for Guyon, who looked open to improvement 12 months ago, if he felt he would be even better now and he hasn't been.

He has ridden a few terrific races, some that certainly deserved a better fate than defeat, but there have also been tactically barren efforts, and rides perched out on a limb and looking in need of an allowance. And there have been what looked like panic moments with the whip, when Guyon has brought back boyhood memories of agricultural shows and brawny axemen engaged in wood-chopping contests, delivering as many blows as possible in the briefest time.

One thing he has done is move the Jockey Club to address the situation of new jockeys and getting started here, particularly in the face of language difficulties, so it seems the intention is that Alexis Doussot will be the first and last translator imported by a rider.

Starting with the arrival of Umberto Rispoli this month, the club will employ a multi-lingual official to assist new jockeys with language barriers, with form, with making contacts with trainers and understanding trackwork, entry and ride booking routines, until they are properly settled, perhaps six to eight weeks later, then cut them loose. In Rispoli's case, that might mean for most of his 10-week stint.

Where that would leave a jockey like Guyon, who has a minimal command of English and has already plenty of experience of the procedures here, we are not sure.

Guyon is very young, already a success and he is only going to get better. But whether he becomes a great champion depends on whether, like Kinane, he takes last Sunday's events, and what led to them, as grounding and character-building or as a bitter, souring scar.