In a major rule change, the Jockey Club yesterday restricted the number of outside rides to be taken by retained jockeys and immediately lengthened the odds on this season's championship battle. Jockeys and retaining trainers were summoned to a post-trackwork meeting at Sha Tin where Director of Racing, Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, spelt out the changes, which will primarily hit champion jockey Basil Marcus and leading challenger Douglas Whyte. The move comes in the wake of criticism as the two South African stars battled for the title in the later stages of last season. The duo had full books at every meeting, with the majority of their rides on numerous occasions coming from outside their retaining stables of David Hayes and Tony Cruz respectively. All retained jockeys will now be restricted to two outside rides on any seven- or eight-race programme. If their trainers do not have runners at the meeting, they will be permitted to take three outside rides. At a nine- or 10-race meeting, the permitted number of outside rides increases by one. With no stable runners, a retained jockey would have four outside rides. Three outside rides would augment whatever stable rides he has at the meeting. The new rules come into effect from the night meeting on September 23 at Happy Valley. The Racing Department studied statistics for the past three seasons and Engelbrecht-Bresges was well-armed with facts and figures as he explained the rules to a hushed assembly at the Sha Tin weighing room. Key figures relate to the number of rides obtained by retained jockeys and the percentage to total rides available to all jockeys. Last season, retained jockeys had 4,181 rides, or 54.3 per cent of the total 7,694 rides, as opposed to 2,782 rides the previous season, or 37.1 per cent, from 7,492 in total. In the 1995-96 season, 2,388 rides went to retained jockeys, or 34.2 per cent, of 6,984 rides. In relation to prize money, a whopping $324.7 million went to retained riders last season - or 70.1 per cent of the total on offer. That compared to $201.6 million (48.1 per cent) the previous season and $162.1 million (46.8 per cent) in the 1995-96 season. There were predictable reactions with Whyte, a leading contender for this year's title and now under retainer to Ivan Allan, saying: 'It is definitely going to hurt my chances so there's no way I can be over the moon. 'Take a most obvious example. Ivan [Allan] does not start many horses at Happy Valley. On some nights he won't have any. That means on a night where I have no stable horses, I end up with three rides instead of probably seven. Last Wednesday I had two rides for Ivan out of a full book. But what can I do about it, it's decided.' Club jockey Glen Boss is likely to be an immediate beneficiary of the new rules, which will certainly aid others in the position coming later. 'I think it is definitely fairer and it will help the Jockey Club get riders, too. It has been easier for me this time around because more people know me but that was not the case before,' he said. 'There are simply going to be more rides available now.' Ever-cheerful champion Marcus took it on the chin and said: 'It is going to mean more work for me - studying. With only a restricted number of outside rides available, I will have to be very careful about which ones I take.' That point was echoed by local trainer Alex Wong Yu-on, who said: 'Ultimately, it will be the top jockeys who decide what they want to ride, as they do now. But it will mean greater opportunities for the Club Jockeys.' Veteran trainer Lawrie Fownes agreed with the changes and said: 'The top boys like Basil and Douglas are still going to have a lot of rides. They will probably have about 75 per cent of what they had before. 'This was coming. I wouldn't say it was bound to happen, but you only had to look at the rides towards the end of last season to say that the system wasn't perfect.' There was also immediate support from colourful local trainer Brian Kan Ping-chee. 'This is much better and much fairer. They have done the right thing,' said Kan. Engelbrecht-Bresges stressed that the changes were not going to make a huge difference but felt they were necessary. 'The figures tell a large part of the story. The Racing Committee was concerned about the number of rides going to retained riders which increased so dramatically. There has to be support, too, for Club Jockeys and we have commitments to local riders. They are both an important part of racing here, too,' he said. An official Jockey Club statement said: 'Acting in the best interests of racing development in Hong Kong, Stewards have decided to place a limit on outside rides that retained jockeys may accept. 'It is expected that the move would also help to provide Club, local and apprentice jockeys with better riding opportunities and also to rectify the very uneven distribution of rides and prize money percentages earned amongst different classes of jockeys.' Engelbrecht-Bresges agreed that the battle for both the jockeys' and trainers' championships last season had sparked huge interest, but said: 'I think it will be very exciting this year, too. It may be now that there are three or four fighting for the title rather than two.' The dominance of the top South African pair was reflected in their total rides, with Marcus having 554 for the season to Whyte's 545. Whyte, however, missed the 10 races on the final day as he was in Japan riding Oriental Express. With Marcus and Whyte battling intensely for the championship last season, there was a much more limited betting spread in many races. Money poured in on horses ridden by the title-chasing duo and it caused Jockey Club concern. However, with the South African duo now having to be extremely selective over their outside rides, that same pattern is likely to be repeated. There will be at least one unwanted victim of the new rules - former South African champion Felix Coetzee, whose 423 total rides last season put him closest to his two title-hunting compatriots, Marcus and Whyte. He is riding under retainer for David Hill who, unlike Hayes and Allan, does not have a full stable. But Coetzee will also be under the same restrictions - although he has access to 35 stable horses rather than 60. Said Engelbrecht-Bresges: 'Unfortunately, it would be too difficult to police a system of pro-rata rides for a stable jockey riding for a trainer without the full complement of horses.' Coetzee, who was with former champion Kan last season, has been much in demand in the two meetings so far. Said Hill: 'He knew when he came to me that he would have a lot of outside rides because my stable numbers are smaller. I assured him, too, that he could ride outside when he had better opportunities. Obviously, that's all changed now.'