The latest chatter doing the rounds is that local jockeys might be given a three-pound allowance to better enable them to compete with the internationals and stop their collective slide toward the bottom of the table. Whether or not this is the right answer, something has to be done. One of the Jockey Club's most important charters is the nurturing of quality, home-grown horse industry personnel and, despite the allocation of huge resources, there has not been a top Hong Kong jockey since the glory days of Tony Cruz. In theory, Hong Kong should be producing jockeys at a prodigious rate. Chinese boys have a genetic predisposition to be smaller than their expatriate counterparts and the facilities at their disposal here are world class. But they are struggling. On Saturday, relief was probably the dominant emotion for Alex Yu Kin-shing when he won on Cenamira. Yu had been winnerless all season, as he was for most of last season and not for an absence of ability. He'd been starved for opportunity, getting only 92 rides across 75 race meetings. As we've observed before in this column, the local ranks contain some very good jockeys. Eddie Lai Wai-ming is a solid rider who holds his own against the highest quality roster anywhere, and has ridden a Group One winner for the now-retired Ivan Allan - Self Flit in the 2003 Classic Mile. Race after race, Lai puts his mounts in the right spot and has the ability to make horses travel well. He's tactically sound and strong in a finish, but even he finds opportunity hard to come by. Howard Cheng Yue-tin was champion apprentice just a few seasons ago when David Hayes was enthusiastic about using him, especially on higher grade runners. It's not long since Cheng won a leg of the International Jockeys Championship at Happy Valley against an all-star field with a clever front-running ride. This term he has ridden just six winners. Cheng pushes around more 100-1 shots than any decent jockey should be asked to, but goes about his business, hoping the cycle of luck may turn his way. And spare a thought for Way Leung Ming-wai, another former leading apprentice who rode 10 winners last season and now, a season on, hasn't ridden a winner in 152 rides. His confidence is taking an awful battering and the rust is gathering on his skills in the saddle. Unless something happens soon, this young man's career aspirations will be all washed up. So, is the three-pound allowance for local riders the right answer? Lai says it is. 'Anywhere else in the world, we would not need the three pounds but in Hong Kong we do,' he said. 'Because nowhere else do you ride against nine or 10 champion jockeys in every race.' An alternative viewpoint is that there are too many expatriate jockeys. Having two or three fewer club jockeys would ensure the locals were used more and the sheer number of high-class jockeys riding against them would be not quite so daunting. There is also the idea, which seems to meet broad agreement at the Jockey Club, that the apprentices need more time overseas than they currently receive. They may get 100-plus rides at far-flung country meetings in Australia but that won't be sufficient grounding to make them competitive against the likes of Douglas Whyte, Felix Coetzee, Shane Dye, Anthony Delpech, Gerald Mosse and Robbie Fradd. We don't allow Class Five winners to go straight to Class One because we know they'll get flogged, but these kids are thrown to the lions without a second thought about the damage we're inflicting on them. The three-pound allowance idea is a kind of handicapping of jockeys and a glance at the premiership table clearly shows they need some assistance to remain competitive. Is it the right answer for a complex problem? It's worth a try, as is the other related topic under discussion in the halls of power - lifting the number of wins allowed before reducing the apprentices' allowances at each stage. Under that scheme, an apprentice rider might not lose his seven-pound claim until he had 50 winners ensuring that the junior jockey remains attractive to trainers and owners for much longer and therefore ensuring a longer period during which they can hone riding skills to a higher level. Nobody learns much on the no-hopers they attract when they lose favour. That could mean that when the claim has dissipated, the jockey has had sufficient experience and exposure to be regarded as a worthy senior - and that is the crux of the whole matter and the point on which any of these ideas might fail. The flaw in the three-pound claim idea for Lai or Cheng or Yu is that such a claim is not regarded as a crucial difference by owners and trainers anyway. Anybody can add and subtract 10 pounds - and they'll still prefer the 10-pound claimer with lesser skill and experience until he becomes a five-pound claimer and they move on to someone new. It is the choice of the connections that means former leading apprentices become warm-up riders who get the mounts when horses are not fit or coming out of a health problem. And their choice again that the expatriate jockeys get on when the horse is ready to race well. Anyone can say what they will about Allan and, in particular, Brian Kan Ping-chee, but the local jockeys are certainly missing the rides they were given on real live chances by those two retired champions. And it is all about opportunity, not about three pounds. Give the local jockeys three pounds and nothing will change. Give the young apprentices their seven pounds until 50 winners and it will be a band-aid on a sliced artery - it might resemble a solution but it isn't. It will simply postpone the same nasty result. One reason why local jockeys would once have received better opportunities is the better odds that punting owners and trainers get with the lesser light riders. But as punting owners have gradually moved to the endangered species list in Hong Kong, the worth of this argument has died off, too. Until connections decide they want to use the local riders more on real chances or are channelled into, forced into or somehow unable to avoid giving them proper rides, the path will continue to be same promising start followed by a rapid decline in chances, skills and an early exit from the game. Ten years from now, we will be having the same debate.