APPRENTICE Eddie W. M. Lai's only hope is for clemency if he goes through with his intention to appeal against the nine-month disqualification imposed on Saturday night for his riding of Castlepeaktreasure. A close scrutiny of the video replay of the Castlepeaktreasure's race from last Wednesday night's dirt fixture shows that the stipendiary stewards had little option other than to conclude that he did not ride the gelding on its merits. Lai, 21, was vigorous in the early part of the race but he sat as quiet as a church mouse in the straight and that is why he was disqualified. But he still has a chance of getting his sentence reduced on appeal as, until this incident, he is understood to have a clean record with not the slightest suggestion of anything untoward. Against this background, a nine-month disqualification could be construed as draconian as it does not just mean he is banned from riding in races, he cannot ride trackwork or even set foot on a racecourse anywhere in the world, let alone in Hong Kong. He is also inexperienced and this should be taken into account. But there is one very large catch-22 facing Lai at appeal. What will weigh heavily against him is that he is saying he did not stop Castlepeaktreasure. He contends the gelding had no more to give and that is why he was easy on him in the home straight. The race-meeting stewards have, unequivocally, found otherwise. Basically, for Lai to succeed in his plea and either get his disqualification reduced or changed to a suspension, which would allow him to ride trackwork and attend race meetings, there is an overwhelming onus on him to admit his guilt. The reason Darren Beadman (the last jockey before Lai to be disqualified) failed in his appeal is that he went in and continued to protest his innocence. But - and this is where the catch-22 comes into play - if Lai does hold his hands up at appeal then he could provoke a very difficult question from the powers that be. 'Why did you do it, son?' should be boomed across the table at him. That, of course, may be too deep a question even to be asked. Beadman was never asked it while in the territory despite the security department's wishes to do so. But even if asked, it is certainly too deep a question to be answered. FROM a procedural view point, there has to be a better way of handling future running and riding inquiries. The way the Castlepeaktreasure case was adjourned, reconvened, adjourned and then reconvened undermines the wider interests of the owners for whom Lai was riding or the punters who had backed his horses. The original inquiry was adjourned after racing on Wednesday night. There must be a powerful argument for concluding these inquiries during or immediately after the meeting in question unless it is going to take a day or two for a detailed veterinary report. But to reconvene the inquiry immediately prior to the following meeting, and then adjourn it again to pass sentence after that meeting has been concluded, is to put the jockey in question under intolerable pressure. That would not matter, but there are other parties within the sport that suffer. Lai has a responsibility not only to himself but also to his trainer, his owners and the public that bet on him. How can Lai, or any other jockey for that matter, senior riders included, be reasonably expected to go out and fulfil those responsibilities to the best of his ability knowing that their fate hangs in the balance? If I owned a horse in Gary Ng's stable I certainly would not want Lai on it in these circumstances, and he would have to be massively over the odds before he had my money on him. Surely these reconvened inquiries can be arranged so as not to coincide with race meetings. To hold them on a raceday may be expedient in the short-term, but that is all it is. It is not in the best interests of the wider racing public. WHAT do Makarpura Star and Ivan Allan have in common? Mafoos are the answer. Prior to saddling Makarpura Star for his excellent third in the Group Three Coongy Handicap in Melbourne on Wednesday, champion trainer John Moore went on record as saying he had never had him in better condition. The reason? 'Because of the labour situation in Australia compared to Hong Kong, I can have him out much longer [in Australia] both in the mornings and the afternoons and he has never looked better,' explained Moore. 'He can enjoy a pick of grass and has put on about 10 pounds in condition.' Ironic isn't it that as Moore was saying this, Allan, himself a former champion trainer and one of the most experienced figures in world racing, was prepared to go on record and lambaste the new agreement negotiated by Jockey Club management and the mafoos union. The outcome of all this is that mafoos are now required to work fewer hours than before, but look after more horses. It would not matter that they are required to work fewer hours if there were more of them, but the ratio of horses to mafoos is actually going up when it does not take Einstein to work out that it should be going down to compensate for less hours worked. So it if was not possible to get our horses as fit as their international counterparts before, then now there is no chance. Jockey Club management had the chance to seize the initiative from the mafoos and set in place a labour structure which would serve Hong Kong racing into the future. They failed to do so and this against a background of a massive, some say 50 to 1, oversubscription of applicants to jobs for new mafoo positions. It's lamentable.