EQUESTRIAN

Jacqueline Lai sets sights on matching the elite in world showjumping

Hong Kong rider hopes to make a strong impression in the Longines Masters Series event in the city this weekend

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 February, 2016, 11:36pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 February, 2016, 10:53am

Jacqueline Lai Jing-man will be flying the bauhinia flag at this weekend’s Longines Masters Series showjumping event in Hong Kong – an event she hopes will be a stepping stone as she seeks to establish herself among the world’s elite.

The three-day event has attracted a field of equestrian stars for its fourth edition at AsiaWorld-Expo, among them France’s world No 2-ranked Simon Delestre and Ireland’s Bertram Allen (ranked nine).

It’ll be the biggest show I’ve ever done in my life but it’s a great opportunity
Jacqueline Lai

Lai – currently ranked 969 – is relishing the chance to test herself against the best in the Asian leg of what is proclaimed as the “grand slam indoor of showjumping”, with legs also in Los Angeles and Paris

“It will be very tough,” said the 25-year-old. “I’ve never competed against such a strong bunch. It’ll be the biggest show I’ve ever done in my life but it’s a great opportunity. I found out two months ago that I would be competing and I’ve spent every opportunity I’ve had since training and getting the horses ready.”

The Denmark-based Hong Kong Jockey Club equestrian team rider was part of the city’s squad that last August missed out on a place for the Rio Olympics, coming third behind Australia and Japan in the final qualifying competition in Hagen, Germany.

But she returns to her home town fresh from a season that saw her placed fifth at a three-star grand prix event in Belgium in September, before winning a two-star event in Shangdong the same month.

“We knew coming in qualifying would be tough and the strongest teams won through,” said Lai. “So my next goal is a little bit more realistic and that is the World Equestrian Games in 2018 in Canada. The qualification system for that gives me a few more chances and I am hoping this weekend will provide a great start for me as I plan my way forward towards that.”

An horrific fall that left her with a fractured pelvis in 2011 almost brought a premature end to Lai’s equestrians dreams but she said she had now fully recovered from her injuries thanks in no small part to the trait she says makes her suited to the sport.

“I am stubborn,” laughed Lai. “If I want to do something I do it and that has helped me get over the injuries. I still have to work hard, strengthening myself, and at becoming a better rider but I am improving.”

The weekend’s action kicks off on Friday night with the HKJC Trophy featuring all 23 riders in town for the event.

“I’m competing against a whole new level of riders and horses so I’ve just got to try to bring the best out of the horses I have and hope to be on par competitively,” said Lai . “To think I might place No 1 is a bit far-fetched so my aim is to keep up with them and be competitive.”

Lai will team up with local jockey Derek Leung Ka-chun for Friday night’s HKJC Race of the Riders event, which pairs the cream of the local riding crop with some of showjumping’s superstars.

Neil Callan, Joao Moreira and Vincent Ho Chak-yiu are the other flat-racing stars who will be seen in action and they were out at AsiaWorld-Expo on Thursday night taking in the course – and picking up a few tips from those in the know.

Some of the equestrian stars were at the Happy Valley races on Wednesday where Callan could be seen explaining to them the various mysteries of the weighing room.

“You know the only real piece of advice I could give you guys if you wanted to be a jockey is to stay right out of there,” said the Irishman, as he pointed to the Stewards Room.