Street Talk: Derek Leung
At just 26 years old, jockey Derek Leung has 160 Hong Kong wins under his belt and is in the running for the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Most Popular Horse and Jockey of the Year. He talks to Adrienne Chum about life in the saddle.
HK Magazine: How’d you get interested in jockeying?
Derek Leung: When I was 14, my dad took me to Tuen Mun to try riding. I realized I really liked horses. A year later I saw an ad for the Jockey Club and decided to try it out. Hong Kong doesn’t have a lot of local jockeys, and I was presented with a rare opportunity. I worked hard and was gradually able to find success. Horse racing can be dangerous, but when my family saw I was serious about the sport, they fully supported me.
HK: What was your first race like?
DL: It was in New Zealand. I was excited but very nervous because it was my first time. I had been training, but that was nothing like a real race. You don’t get so close to that many horses when you practice. I was racing against experienced jockeys. I didn’t do well, but I learned a lot from it.
HK: What’s the hardest thing about being a jockey?
DL: Staying light. Every day I weigh myself—a jockey in Hong Kong must stay between 113 and 133 pounds. I’m 113 pounds. Being lighter means I can ride more horses, because some can’t carry heavier jockeys. Everybody loses weight differently: I cook my own food and don’t take supplements.
HK: What do you eat?
DL: I eat many small meals throughout the day and try to include more protein and calcium. In the morning I eat eggs, beans, turkey, congee—things that are light but filling. At night my dinners tend to be fish or white meat. I love eating fried food but I can’t. Usually I can control my cravings, but once in a while I’ll sneak something in.
HK: Do you ride the same horse every race?
DL: Local jockeys don’t ride the same horse every time. Jockeys and horses are trained separately, and we don’t see each other when we aren’t riding them. This is very different from many other jockeys elsewhere—some come from families with stables and raise their own horses. In fact, pretty much every race [here] is on a different horse. That means that with each race, I have to adjust my riding style to fit the horse’s personality. Sometimes I don’t have time to get a feel for each horse, so I have to improvise during the race.
HK: How is racing in Hong Kong different than other places?
DL: Hong Kong is a leader in equestrian racing, but every summer I go to race in other countries to gain more experience and exposure to other styles. I’ve been to New Zealand, Australia, France, and Singapore. Every course is different, and you don’t always get to run through the course before racing. Many are not as predictable as Hong Kong courses.
HK: What’s coming up for you?
DL: It’s my first time participating in the Most Popular Horse and Jockey of the Year competition. I’m trying to get more votes by performing better, to give local jockeys more publicity. This summer I will be going to the UK to practice jockeying there. There is no guarantee I will get to race in the UK, but I hope I do well enough that they let me.
The Jockey Club’s Most Popular Horse and Jockey of the Year competition will run online through June 24. Visit tiny.cc/hk-derek for more info.