One of Howard Cheng Yue-tin's first impressions of horse racing was the smiling faces of the winners on television. In March 1999, after a three-year apprenticeship, he was one of those smiling winners when he bagged his first professional race. 'Every time I went to the race tracks I would imagine the happiness I would feel if I won. But when I won my first race that happiness was stronger than I had ever imagined. It was a great feeling and I knew I had chosen the right career. It was one of the most memorable days of my life. I'll never forget it.' Cheng said he loved his job because of the excitement it brought and he believed that jockeys were often highly ambitious people who were motivated by the competitive nature of the sport. Cheng started his career as an apprentice jockey at the Hong Kong Jockey Club at the age of 16. After spending three years training under the watchful eye of the now-departed Australian David Hayes, where he built up a solid reputation as a champion apprentice jockey, he was ready to step up to the next level. Hayes was an excellent mentor, Cheng said. 'He had the power of persuasion to convince horse owners which jockeys should be riding which horses. 'He gave a lot of opportunities to apprentice jockeys even if the horses may have had a better chance of winning with someone else at the reins. He taught us everything he knew about horse riding.' Cheng said winning was all about timing and luck. 'If the horse does not like you on a particular day, no matter how good your technique, it is hard to perform well. Of course good technique matters, but luck always plays an important role.' One thing Cheng learnt was not to get attached to a certain horse. He said he liked some horses which he had won two or three races on, but horse owners had decided on another jockey at the next race for no particular reason. Also, while some horses were very likable, they were usually not the winning horses. Winning horses generally had strong personalities and an equally strong temperament. 'These days I tend to maintain an emotional distance from the horses I ride. So when people ask me which is my favourite horse, I always answer with the name of a different horse,' he said. He looked at his career as a jockey in practical terms and ran it like a business. Networking is important for a jockey to get ahead and getting to know and maintain good relationships with owners and trainers helped land the jockey in the saddle of good horses. 'The racing circle is unforgiving. If you come in second or third people will tell you how you could have improved on your performance. 'If you win, no matter how badly you performed, people will always say you ran a good race,' Cheng said. 'Winning will help you become a more popular rider, and if you are popular you tend to get opportunities to run on better horses next time. It's as simple as that,' he said. Accepting interviews with the media and getting a little publicity was a good thing, Cheng added, but he liked to keep his family - his wife and four-year-old son - out of the limelight. 'My son sometimes watches me racing on television. When I get back home he will say to me, 'I saw you on the TV, daddy',' the jockey said. Cheng was the top-ranking local jockey last season. With a total of 35 wins and almost HK$29 million in stakes won for the season, he is now seventh in the jockey rankings.