Gary Stevens joins the all-star cast at International Jockeys' Championship

Hall of Fame American continues his comeback in the saddle and adds class to a quality field of riders next month

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 November, 2013, 1:31am

Champion American jockey Gary Stevens will cap off his remarkable comeback to the saddle when he returns to Hong Kong to ride in next month's Longines International Jockeys' Championship (IJC) at Happy Valley.

The December 4 series will see four past winners of the showpiece return once more - perennial Hong Kong champion Douglas Whyte (2002, 2007, 2008), France's leading rider Christophe Soumillon (dead-heat 2004), Epsom Derby winner Ryan Moore (dead-heat 2009, 2010) and Brazil's Joao Moreira (2012). But his appearance is in doubt, pending an appeal against a careless riding charge from last night's races.

The return of Stevens, however, has been the headline story of the year in international racing, having come back after seven years on the sidelines as a broadcaster and actor.

In the 10 months since his return, he has snared 64 winners, including the Preakness Stakes aboard Oxbow, and this month the 50-year-old rode Mucho Macho Man to victory in America's richest race, the Breeders' Cup Classic (2,000m) at Santa Anita.

Stevens has a strong record in Hong Kong, having ridden 20 winners from 89 rides during a three month stint in the 1994-1995 season, but he has not ridden here since finishing seventh in the IJC in 2001.

He is joined by 48-year-old Hong Kong debutant Mike Smith, best known as the all-time leading Breeders' Cup rider and for his association with champion mare Zenyatta. The pair, nicknamed the "Geritol jockeys" by trainer Bob Baffert for their ability to dominate racing at an age where most would be considering retirement, are the first American representatives in the challenge since 2010.

At the other end of the spectrum are Japanese rising star Suguru Hamanaka and emerging French jockey Maxime Guyon, both 24. Hamanaka is yet to ride outside his homeland, but he has created quite the impression in Japan, winning 131 races last season to be crowned the leading rider on JRA racecourses, ahead of past IJC representatives Yasunari Iwata and Yuichi Fukunaga.

Guyon has already ridden around Europe and enjoyed a solid period in Hong Kong during the 2010-2011 season, when he partnered Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon to victories in the Hong Kong Classic Cup and the Hong Kong Derby.

Last year's winner Moreira may be the heir apparent in Hong Kong's jockey ranks given his sparkling form since his arrival last month, but he will be representing Singapore as their champion jockey of last season.

Three-time victor Whyte will man the fort for the home team, along with two others who will be decided based on this season's jockey standings.

Zac Purton is expected to snare one of the positions as leading jockey, for which he is nine wins ahead of second-placed Whyte, while the second spot will go to the leading Chinese rider, with Keith Yeung Ming-lun now two wins ahead of Vincent Ho Chak-yiu and three ahead of Matthew Chadwick.

The line-up is completed by Italy's five-time champion Mirco Demuro and Australia's Kerrin McEvoy, the Melbourne Cup-winning rider who makes his IJC debut.

All 12 jockeys are randomly allocated their mounts for the four races and accumulate points depending on where they finish. The rider with the highest points will receive HK$500,000, the runner-up HK$200,000 and third HK$100,000.