Rispoli keen to get back in saddle in HK
With Italy's racing industry in crisis, jockey Umberto Rispoli is determined to make the most of his two-month stint in Hong Kong, which begins with two rides at Happy Valley tonight.
Racing returned in Italy last week after jockeys, trainers and other personnel went on strike on New Year's Day in a row over massive government cuts in funding that caused dramatic reductions in prize money, but there is no guarantee it will continue into next month with talk of more industrial action.
Rispoli, 23, is already two-time champion in Italy, breaking Frankie Dettori's long-standing record for victories in a season when he rode 245 winners in 2009.
While it seems Rispoli has the world at his feet, he fears for the future of racing in his homeland and only agreed to head abroad when it was clear there was no end in sight to the upheaval.
'I am worried because 50,000 people could lose their jobs and, if the racing stops, I will lose my job. But I'm young and I can get another job,' he said. 'The problem is the government does not want to give the money back to the sport. It seems impossible and people just can't live with the prize money being so low.'
Rispoli rode with success in Japan last year, landing 28 winners in a three-month tenure, including a Group One win, and heads into his latest adventure with lofty ambitions.
The ever-confident rider, whose opportunities will be aided by his ability to compete at as low as 117 pounds, has set an ambitious goal of more than 12 wins and to gain a ride in a Group One event. More importantly, he said, he wanted to learn by riding against elite competition.
'I like to check all of the best jockeys in the world, because I think everybody has their speciality,' he said. 'I like to take something from everybody and put it altogether. Of course, I like Frankie Dettori, there is no-one like him and there won't be another for 100 years. But I also like [Christophe] Soumillon, or in America, Garrett Gomez.'
Rispoli leaves another name until last: 11-time local champion Douglas Whyte. 'Everybody knows he is the best here. Look how many winners has he had already this season, 57, amazing,' Rispoli said. 'I'll be watching what he does in races and following him.'
Rispoli arrives at an opportune time with the jockeys' ranks depleted through injury, recent departures and suspension. For the first time, the Jockey Club has employed a 'liaison' to ease Rispoli through the early part of his stay by helping communicate with trainers and explaining the finer points of the system.
'We could see the new jockeys were taking a while to come to grips with the system,' licensing committee secretary Steve Railton said. 'Their early time in Hong Kong will be much more fruitful than it would have been.'