Newmarket-based trainer Sean Woods was the surprise choice yesterday as the new expatriate trainer for the 2002-03 season. Woods, 36, brother of jockey Wendyll Woods and nephew of trainer Lawrie Fownes, gained the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Licensing Committee's preference to fill the existing vacancy over many applicants worldwide. First licensed in 1992, Woods enjoyed his best year yet in 2001 with 43 winners at a strike rate of 16 per cent, although he finished 33rd in the UK standings based on prize money, and 23rd by wins. His biggest career win is rated as the Group Two Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot in September, 2000, with Atlantis Prince, joining the Godolphin stable soon after. Woods' sole Group One win was Mistle Cat in the 1996 Premio Vittorio di Capua in Milan. Despite a consistent 10 per cent-plus strike rate and a reputation for buying inexpensive horses and making them into above- average performers, Woods has won his licence as something of a dark horse. 'Perhaps some people will be surprised, but we have been extremely impressed by the professionalism of Sean Woods in building up his stable from scratch,' said the Jockey Club's executive director of racing, Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges. 'He was not a trainer with the backing of a single significant owner but a guy who has gone out, found his owners and done well in a very competitive environment in the past couple of years especially. We see him as a young, hard-working trainer who is on the way up. 'We did not set out to bring only established big name trainers to Hong Kong, but trainers who will be suitable for Hong Kong. Also, we felt that it was ideal for our mix to have a northern hemisphere trainer this time as we have taken on trainers from Australia and South Africa in recent years.' Engelbrecht-Bresges said Woods had also appealed due to his strong knowledge of Hong Kong racing and the fact that he already has many contacts in racing here. He has sold quite a number of horses to Hong Kong in the past, including the Fownes-trained Royal Majesty. However, the licensing committee deferred the much-awaited decision on the assistant trainer who will be promoted for next term. 'As far as the assistant trainers are concerned, we have decided to take a further look at the candidates in this area,' said Engelbrecht-Bresges. 'We are under no real pressure to appoint anyone yet, so we will take another month's consideration.' Next Wednesday's Happy Valley fixture will have eight races, following the Racing Committee decision to programme such cards according to demand. The Jockey Club tried, and discarded, the staging of regular eight-race Wednesday programmes at the course in November, but the latest move has been taken in the interests of owners. Engelbrecht-Bresges said: 'We have made race programming more flexible so that decisions to split races will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. At the Happy Valley meeting, one race contained eight horses with priority to run and many potential starters would have been balloted out if we did not split the race.'