Court hears of respect for female rider Kan

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2002, 12:00am

A female jockey blamed for an accident which resulted in a horse having to be put down was described in court yesterday as having been a 'very respected rider' in her brief career.

The issue of the competence of female jockeys came up in a landmark action launched by insurers Lloyd's against the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the estate of female rider Willy Kan Wai-yu.

Kan, who died aged 20 in 1999 as the result of a separate racing accident, had matched expatriate riders in her win figures, testified Christopher Lee, an acting chief stipendiary steward at the time of the May 1998 race at the centre of yesterday's hearing.

Lloyd's is seeking to recoup 3.5 million French francs ($3.6 million) in insurance paid out after a horse owned by tycoon Dickson Poon was put down following the accident. It also wants an indemnification for loss of future earnings amounting to $140,000.

The horse, Harbour Master, suffered a severed tendon in its left foreleg during a feature race at Sha Tin on May 3, 1998. The insurers claim the injury was suffered as the riders left the gate and bunched up while approaching the first bend. Lloyd's says Kan twice caused interference in the field, resulting in a domino effect in which Celestial Fortune's leg clipped Harbour Master's foreleg.

The case is a world first. While claims have arisen between jockeys - based on a duty of care to each other to ride safely - the duty of care has never been extended from the jockey on the track to the owner in the stands.

The Court of First Instance has heard from Lloyd's counsel, Anselmo Reyes, SC, that Harbour Master received the injury when Winning Scene, the mount ridden by Kan, twice created interference with the rest of the field before the first bend.

After watching a video of the race in court, Mr Justice William Stone asked Mr Lee if female jockeys could control their mounts as well as their male counterparts.

Mr Lee replied: 'I think that they cope but the mounts they ride should be chosen carefully, but that goes for young boy apprentices as well.' He agreed that Kan - whom he described as 'a very respected rider' - had ridden recklessly in the race, but said it was not a serious incident. He said Kan 'had done very, very well' in her career.

He also agreed with defence counsel Joseph Fok, SC, that Harbour Master appeared to have sustained its injury on the back stretch because the horse was performing well up to that point.

The issue of female jockeys was also put to champion jockey Basil Marcus, who was riding Celestial Fortune during the race.

'As a jockey becomes more experienced, you generally strengthen all over, you get fitter and stronger and are able to control the horses better,' he said.

Mr Marcus testified that he did not believe his horse's left foreleg struck Harbour Master's right foreleg - as reported in an official account of the accident - as he only felt his horse 'bump' into Kan's mount and not 'clip' it.

Harbour Master's rider during the race, Carol Yu, testified that she felt her mount sustain its injury on the last leg of the race when it suddenly changed gait.

Harbour Master was destroyed within an hour of the race finishing. The hearing continues today.