Club biased against locals, says trainer

FIRST-season trainer Stephen Leung was last night furious after failing to secure a licence to retain English and Irish Derby-winning jockey Alan Munro for next season.

Jockey Club officials said Neville Begg's experience had won the day as he, rather than Leung, was granted the last of the eight licences to retain a jockey.

Leung claims he will now have to reduce his stable numbers to cope without the services of a retained rider.

He also sees a bias against local trainers in the decision and was bitterly critical of the Club's emphasis on experience.

He stormed: ''This is a hell of a major setback for me. I feel the Club is killing me and it shows the Club is not looking after the locals - seven of the eight licences have gone to expatriates.

''It seems the Club only want me to have a small stable.

''I worked as hard as is humanly possible to build up my stable from three horses to the point where next season I was going to have 55 horses in training.

''But it is impossible to train 55 horses properly without a good stable jockey - just ask my old boss, Patrick Biancone.

''Neville only has around 35 but they say it is his experience.

''But I will have to accept the decision and reduce my numbers to around 20 or 30 or so and just enjoy my life.'' Leung, who has trained eight winners from just 68 runners in his first campaign, went on: ''It looks like the locals are here only to make up the numbers.

''It wasn't as if I was applying for just any old jockey. I had Alan Munro lined up and he's one of the best jockeys to be found anywhere and proven in Hong Kong.'' But Philip Johnston, the Jockey Club's director of racing, dismissed Leung's claim that the decision to grant Begg a licence smacked of bias against the local handlers.

''That was the last thing in the world behind the decision,'' he stressed.

''It was, in fact, a very close decision but when it came down to the nitty gritty it was Neville Begg's experience which won the day. After all, experience counts for so much in racing.'' It is understood that Munro will now be offered an extended contract as a Club Jockey next season when he could ride out here for some four-and-a-half months.

Begg had applied for top Queensland rider Shane Scriven to replace Darren Beadman earlier in the season.

That application was knocked back and now that he has been granted a licence, Begg will not make any decision without liaising with the Club.

The International Bowl-winning handler said: ''I'm very pleased the Club have approved my application to retain a jockey but I haven't made any decisions on who it will be.

''I have a month to give it very serious thought and will not make any decision without talking to the Club.'' As expected, Ivan Allan, Patrick Biancone, Lawrie Fownes, David Hill, Brian Kan Ping-chee, John Moore and David Oughton were the other trainers granted a licence to retain a jockey.

Meanwhile, Tony Cruz was yesterday given the all clear to ride again this weekend.

The former multiple champion jockey gave up his remaining rides midway through Saturday's meeting due to recurring neck problems which have plagued him all season.

But yesterday, after a thorough examination by Jockey Club doctors, he said: ''I've been passed fit to ride from Saturday.''