Training dream finally comes true for Chris So with Jockey Club licence
Hard work and a tough constitution bring the crowning success of a Hong Kong licence
Chris So Wai-yin knows what it is like to suffer for his sport.
As a young rider, the man who will take up a position as a fully-fledged Jockey Club trainer in July, started his career two decades ago braving the freezing Canadian winter.
"I had to exercise the horses in temperatures of minus 30 degrees, counting the wind chill. I asked myself why I moved to Canada," he said. "My fingers were blue with the cold after riding."
The 44-year-old had always wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and become a jockey, but his dream did not come true because he did not meet the height regulations.
After his family migrated to Canada in the early 1990s, So found casual work doing all kinds of chores on farms and in stables, hoping this would help him become a horse trainer one day.
"We were laid off after a couple of months because Canada's economy was not doing so well," he said. "But if you can get near horses, then you have the chance to learn and people will really let you ride or take care of them."
In time, So got to work more closely with the animals he loves and became an exercise rider and assistant trainer.
He had his share of mishaps while he was working.
"Once I was riding a young horse that saw something that scared it and it rolled over and collapsed on my leg," he said. "My leg was broken and it took eight months to recover."
Fortunately this did not deter his training ambitions.
After working in Canada for five years, So moved back to Hong Kong and in 1997 he joined the Jockey Club. He was a work rider for six years before being promoted to assistant trainer working with champion trainer Caspar Fownes in 2003.
In July, So will finally fulfil his dream to become a horse trainer - a position that is not easy to obtain in Hong Kong.
"There are only 24 trainers in Hong Kong, half of them are local and half of them are foreigners. Hong Kong trainers can only replace local positions," he said.
"If a trainer wins a minimum of 13 races in a year, they can hold on to their position until they retire at 65."
So will replace a local trainer who has been in the business for 30 years.
But for now, what So wants most is for Thumbs Up, the New Zealand mount he and Fownes have trained for three years, to win the Queen Elizabeth II Cup this Sunday. "This is the last race in which I am the assistant trainer, and I really want Thumbs Up to win to repay Mr Fownes' kindness," he said.
The Queen Elizabeth II Cup was first run on sand over 1,575 metres in 1975 at Happy Valley racecourse to commemorate the visit to Hong Kong by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. It was upgraded to an International Group 1 race in 2001 and is now run at Sha Tin Racecourse.