HONG KONG trainers have been warned about under-the-table ownership of horses with an undertaking that the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club will vigorously investigate what has been a running sore in the territory's racing for decades. Club chief executive Major-General Guy Watkins addressed all licensed trainers in Hong Kong during a special pre-season meeting at Sha Tin after yesterday's trackwork session. Trainers were also advised that the Club are deeply concerned about reports that some jockeys are paying for rides. He said any proof of such incidents, or other abuses involving jockeys and trainers, would put licences in severe jeopardy. Under-the-table ownership has been a shadowy part of the local racing scene for decades and has not been even partially eliminated. In the scheme, an owner fortunate enough to obtain a permit is approached with a lucrative offer. If the offer is accepted, control of the horse passes to a third party. The horse still carries the original owner's colours, but all financial obligations pertaining to it are discharged by the illicit owner. Some horses have been known to pass through three or even four different ''owners'' in the course of a racing career. But it is equally difficult to prove that horses are no longer under the control of their intended owners. Trainers aware of such goings-on are reluctant to speak, not least because of the risk of physical danger. They also fear losing such horses to other stables. There was no joy at the meeting yesterday for trainers operating with small stables. The Club said that the number of horses in each stable would be monitored and any decline in stable strength was likely to have a negative effect when the issue of licences for next season came up. It is understood that at least two trainers are already in receipt of letters from the Club on this matter. There was extremely strong support from trainers, however, for a suggestion put forward for consideration by the club in relation to the annual allocation of new horses to owners. It was pointed out that many of the smaller stables lost out regularly in the balloting as those successful were invariably attached to bigger yards. The Club is being asked to consider a revolutionary proposal that all trainers start any new season with at least five new horses - a real boost for the smaller stables. This involves all trainers nominating - within existing guidelines laid down by the Club for prospective owners - five members who will be allocated permits without having to go through the ballot. These members would then place the horses under the charge of their nominating trainer, while the remaining permits would be available by ballot in the normal manner. The figures, as of this season, will see approximately 100 permits going to nominated owners and another 140 put up for ballot. Chief stipendiary steward Bernard Hargreaves also addressed the annual pre-season meeting. It is understood that trainers could face stiffer fines this season for even minor breaches of the rules of racing. South African champion Jeff Lloyd spent an exhausting first day in Hong Kong yesterday as he prepared to start his three-month stint as the first of the new season's visiting international riders. Lloyd jetted in from Johannesburg after a tiring flight and was then whisked to Sha Tin by a Club employee. He met Hargreaves for a pre-season briefing yesterday afternoon and had a 10-minute session with director of racing Philip Johnston. Lloyd becomes the third South African rider in Hong Kong, joining compatriots Basil Marcus and Felix Coetzee.