APPRENTICE Eddie W. M. Lai's riding career was given a lifeline last night when a Hong Kong Jockey Club appeals board hearing found him not guilty of breaching Rule 131 (i) of the Rules of Racing. Lai, 21, was facing a career-threatening nine-month disqualification after stewards ruled on October 21 after a twice-adjourned inquiry that he had not permitted Castlepeaktreasure to run on its merits in an October 18 race at Sha Tin. Last night's appeals board hearing found him not guilty of infringing Rule 131 (i), which states simply 'every horse which runs in a race shall be run on its merits' but guilty of the lesser Rule 131 (ii) and have suspended him for 28 race days from this Saturday until February 28 inclusive. Lai will be permitted to ride trackwork for trainer Gary Ng Ting-keung, starting from this morning and will also be allowed to continue staying at the apprentice hostel. Under the Jockey Club's licensing regulations, jockeys seeking a licence are required to state that they have not been found guilty of breaching Rule 131 (i). Ng was satisfied with the decision last night and vowed to keep a closer watch on his younger charges. 'I'm very happy with the result,' said Ng, who was not implicated. 'I will be very careful with the apprentices and make sure that they clearly understand the rules.' Lai, who claims seven pounds, has ridden two winners this season. He won over 1,400 metres on V-Ming on September 11 at Sha Tin and followed up with E Treasure over 1,800 metres on September 23. Lai has ridden a total of eight winners in his short career. The last jockey in Hong Kong to be handed a lengthy disqualification was Australian Darren Beadman, for nine months, two seasons ago. But Beadman, unlike Lai, had elsewhere to go. He served out his penalty Down Under and bounced back to clinch the Sydney jockeys' championship. A disqualification is the harshest penalty in racing and a licensed person under such a ban is not permitted to set foot on training grounds or racecourses anywhere in the world during the period of the sentence. According to observers who scrutinised video replays of Lai's ride on Castlepeaktreasure, the young jockey started off vigorously but was quiet in the straight and the stipendiary stewards had little option but to conclude that he did not ride the gelding on its merits. Lai had said that Castlepeaktreasure had no more to give and that was why he took it easy on him in the straight. It is believed that Lai's clean record and inexperience was a factor in the stewards' ruling. After the original verdict, Ng continued to deny that Lai had stopped the gelding. 'I'm not saying his riding in the straight didn't look bad,' Ng said. 'And when you see the film you can't be satisfied with his performance in that part of the race. 'But you have to take it in context of the whole race. He pushed the horse very hard for the first 450 metres and because of this there was nothing left at the end.'