FORMER champion trainer Brian Kan Ping-chee will apply to the Jockey Club for permission to retain French rider Eric St Martin following the abrupt departure to South Africa of stable jockey Felix Coetzee. Kan said at Sha Tin yesterday that Coetzee would leave tomorrow night for Johannesburg for ''five or six weeks''. It is understood that Coetzee is returning home to South Africa because of a very urgent family problem. ''Felix is definitely coming back to ride for me until the end of the season but he must return home now for family reasons. And I will ask the Jockey Club to let me have St Martin until Coetzee returns. ''I have a big stable and I must have a stable jockey. We are very busy now with hardly any breaks in racing and I want to have somebody to work and ride my horses all the time,'' said Kan. The 28-year-old St Martin, son of legendary French star Yves, won last season's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on the Hong Kong-owned Urban Sea. He is currently second jockey to Francois Boutin and flew into Hong Kong late last week. He said yesterday: ''I would love to stay on in Hong Kong and ride and I have told Mr Kan that I will certainly ride for him if he can get the necessary permission. ''I have wanted to ride in Hong Kong for some time and applied last year but there was not a vacancy at that time. I just took a chance and flew here from Paris and then I heard from Mr Kan that he might need a jockey for a short time.'' This is Coetzee's second season with Kan and the pair have a good working relationship. St Martin is an experienced rider whose career highlight was the win of Urban Sea. He has ridden in America where he linked up with now Newmarket-based John Gosden and the top flight West Coast trainer, Charlie Whittingham. Director of Racing, Philip Johnston, said: ''This will go before the Licensing Committee. It is not exactly a cut-and-dried matter as it has come up very suddenly. It is not something that we were expecting.'' There is a precedent - established by Patrick Biancone. When Gerald Mosse was injured after the fall from King Prawn at Happy Valley last season, the French trainer was given permission to engage Eric Legrix as a replacement rider until such time as Mossereturned. Meanwhile, Tony Cruz yesterday scotched reports that he would have an operation on his injured neck and said he would be riding at Wednesday night's Happy Valley meeting. Cruz turned up at Sha Tin with a medical clearance stating he was fit to ride on Wednesday and lodged it with the Jockey Club. He said: ''I am feeling okay and I got a second opinion and another check up today. I have been declared fit to ride and I am looking forward to it. ''I am not going to have an operation.'' It was reported that Cruz would be out of action for at least a month, or probably longer - a development that would have virtually handed the jockeys' title to Basil Marcus. But a lively Cruz declared yesterday he would be back fighting fit on Wednesday - and hopeful of a few rides. ''I don't know how I am fixed for rides at the moment, I will be checking up tomorrow,'' he said. Cruz told trainer-brother Derek that he would be immediately available but his continued presence on the scene opens up the possibility of a ride on Derby favourite, Our Pal. Derek Cruz said earlier that the ride had been offered to Irish champion Mick Kinane but that it was almost certain he could not accept because of commitments with David Oughton who has Gay Pegasus II and two other hopefuls entered. ''I have also talked to Walter Swinburn about riding Our Pal,'' he added. But Derek, like many in local racing, was under the impression that Tony Cruz would be sidelined for some time. ''That's not the case now, so I will talking this over with Tony,'' said Derek. Meanwhile, at Sha Tin yesterday history was made when former Indian champion galloper Astonish became the first horse from the sub-continent to run and win in Hong Kong. And champion jockey Marcus notched up a treble to move five clear of Cruz who watched his rival from the stands.