Lam's boss prays for a miracle

''WE can only make a prayer for him now,'' trainer Peter Ng Bik-kuen said last night as his protege apprentice jockey Francis Lam Ka-shing lay in Queen Mary Hospital fighting for his life.

So serious is Lam's condition that Ng, to whom he is a second son, was not allowed into the ward.

''We need a miracle for him,'' said Ng, ''and we must keep hoping for one.'' The self-effacing Lam, the 19-year-old son of an Aberdeen chef, has been heralded as the brightest star to emerge from the Beas River apprentice school since the great Tony Cruz burst on to the scene some 20 years ago.

A natural in the saddle, he came to attention almost 12 months ago to the day, when riding at last season's prestigious International Cup and Bowl meeting.

He almost brought off one of the shocks of the season on Ng's Oriental Oilfield.

Friendless in the market at 125-1, not least due to the presence of the then unheard-of Lam on his back, Oriental Oilfield all but lowered the colours of favourite Miss Piggy, who was ridden by none other than Cruz.

''Hey, that kid can really ride, he gave me some battle,'' Cruz said at the time.

Lam indeed made Cruz fight all the way to the line and the whole of racing's tight-knit community was hoping last night the same indomitable spirit would bring him round.

''Everyone in racing is hoping he will pull through,'' said Major General Guy Watkins, the Jockey Club's chief executive, as he waited for news of Lam's condition.

Lam, despite being in his first full season as an apprentice jockey, is the second top local rider in the standings, on 16 winners. Only Cruz is above him.

He had five rides at Sha Tin on Saturday, but had gone 56 races without a win. Ng's stable saddled up only three horses this weekend and has not led in a winner among 68 entries.

Lam will be champion apprentice, and his skill has led to world-renowned trainers, Britain's Michael Stoute and Australia's David Hayes, putting in determined rival bids for his services during the close of the Hong Kong season.

Lam speaks faltering English, but would go out of his way to answer all questions in the quiet, smiling manner which has become his hallmark.

He enjoys the post-race banter with the press and readily makes himself available, his great friend and fellow apprentice Vickie C. W. Choi acting as interpreter.

Under Ng's steady hand, Lam also has steered well clear of the darker influences which can be brought to bear on even the most fledgling of riders.

Such has been Ng's faith in Lam's potential that he had no hesitation in pitching his young apprentice straight into the big time in this first full season, choosing him in front of senior riders for Arman's Sax in February's Derby.

There can be no greater accolade than taking on the likes of Lester Piggott, Mick Kinane, Gerald Mosse, Walter Swinburn, Basil Marcus, Johnny Marshall and Cruz at level weights in the Derby after less than a year's experience.