Ricky Yiu Poon-fai says he will cautiously ease his new apprentice Dicky Lui Cheuk-yin into the hypercompetitive cauldron of Hong Kong racing, promising to protect the fresh-faced newcomer from the pressure and expectation of being the only 10-pound claimer in town.
Lui is slated for three rides at Saturday's season-opener at Sha Tin - two of them for outside stables - and Yiu said this would be typical of the 22-year-old's workload early on, with mounts carefully selected for the relative novice, who will be in demand from trainers seeking the generous weight relief of the apprentice concession.
"He'll be brought along very slowly at first, we will pick horses for him that are easygoing types and front-runners, and carefully select the best rides out of what he is offered from other trainers," Yiu said during a meet-the-press briefing at Sha Tin.
"Ricky and Dicky" were joined yesterday by Lui's previous master, New Zealand's leading trainer, John Sargent, who was confident his former student would make the grade, but also happy to hear of Yiu's reluctance to throw the rookie into the deep end.
"If Ricky gives him the right rides, and a lot of trial rides, he'll fit in OK," Sargent said. "But if he gets thrown in, takes a lot of outside rides too soon and doesn't get used to the pace, it could be difficult - it is very different to New Zealand here."
The 22-year-old is hoping to avoid the careless-riding issues that defined the first full season of the last apprentice with the maximum claim, Alvin Ng Ka-chun, who had more days suspended (22) than winners (20) last term.
Lui's two-year stint in New Zealand garnered 22 wins from 344 rides - and importantly, just three suspensions - and gave him experience at a wide variety of tracks and conditions, including tight-turning provincial circuits reminiscent of Happy Valley and a bottomless bog at Auckland's main track Ellerslie. "The track was a rated a Heavy 11 and I wore three pairs of goggles but it still wasn't enough," Lui said.
Not only has Lui got considerable race riding experience on his side, but a "killer instinct" forged in judo, a sport in which he is a black belt and has represented Hong Kong at junior level.
His strong sporting background is indicative of the Hong Kong Jockey Club apprentice school's policy of recruiting competitive and co-ordinated prospects, explained headmistress Amy Chan, herself a former top-level badminton player. "Most of these kids have never seen a horse when they arrive, so to handle things they need to have the right sort of mindset," she said.