‘People thought horse racing was a man’s world’: Amy Chan Lim-chee on learning everything from scratch all over again
- Hong Kong badminton legend was ‘blank piece of paper’ when she joined Jockey Club
- Unwavering work ethic helps Chan thrive as Apprentice Jockeys’ School headmistress
Amy Chan Lim-chee may be best remembered as a Hong Kong badminton legend, but her role as headmistress of the Jockey Club’s Apprentice Jockeys’ School is earning her star status all over again.
Chan was athlete affairs manager at the Sports Institute after she finished her playing career and earned with a physical education degree at Springfield College, Massachusetts.
She won the mixed doubles gold medal with partner Chan Chi-choi at the 1990 Commonwealth Games and was the women’s singles champion of Hong Kong for nine consecutive years from 1975 to 1983.
But now she is excelling in her work with apprentice jockeys such as Kei Chiong Ka-kei and Matthew Chadwick just as much as when she was on the badminton court.
“I started working with both when they were 15 or 16, young kids knowing nothing about horse racing,” Chan said.
“They are both very talented, of course, otherwise they wouldn’t be so successful in the business. But I can also tell you they both work very hard to achieve their goals.
“I was also like a blank piece of paper in horse racing when I joined the Jockey Club more than a decade ago, especially because people thought horse racing was a man’s world. I also needed to learn everything from scratch and faced a lot of difficulties in the first three years of my job.
“But I was never discouraged and kept working hard as I always believe the Chinese proverb ‘God rewards those who work hard’ and it works.”
At the Fo Tan training complex, she worked with elite Hong Kong athletes such as windsurfer Lee Lai-shan, cyclist Wong Kam-po and squash player Rebecca Chiu Wing-yin, helping them with their everyday lives other than training before she was invited to move across the road to join the Jockey Club in 2006.
“I consider managing athletes is like managing apprentice jockeys. They are sportspersons to a large extent,” the headmistress said.
“Both fields require hard work and commitment and if you can acquire both, you won’t be too far away from success.
“I always reckon the importance of the 10,000-hour rule as there is no quick fix. Success requires long hours of training and hard work.”
Chan cited the example of Chiong, who was an ordinary girl with little sports background when she joined the apprentice school before becoming a successful jockey, winning a total 58 races in a brief span of two years.
Chiong announced her retirement at the age of 25 earlier this year due to injury.
“She was outstanding,” Chan said. “But when she first started, she was just like any novice jockeys and suffered a few shaky starts.
“In fact, we were also under pressure because there hadn’t been any female jockeys riding in Hong Kong for 15 years. We had to make sure nothing would go wrong.”
Also a female apprentice jockey, promising Willy Kan Wai-yue was killed in March 1999 after the 19-year-old fell off from her mount during a race at Sha Tin Racecourse.
The youngster was the first female jockey that rode in the Hong Kong Derby just before her fatal accident.
No local female jockey had been seen in Hong Kong after Carol Yu Wing-sze’s last race in May 2000 until September 2015, when Chiong made her debut at Sha Tin.
“Chiong injured her right hand three months after her maiden appearance, also falling down from her horse during a race, but it gave her the opportunity to train her left hand and time to study all the preparation work for her return,” Chan said.
“She knew her target well and what she wanted to achieve in her career. She spent six years in the apprentice school before reaching all the benchmarks we set for any jockey, not just a female jockey. She proved to us her riding capabilities and her strong character to fight.”
After a slow start, Chiong was able to rise through the ranks, riding a historic four winners in one day, just seven months after her debut.
She became champion apprentice in her first season and won the inaugural Tony Cruz Award for leading local jockey.
Now retired, Chiong is studying to become a trainer through attending British Horse Society courses, according to the headmistress.
“At the apprentice school, we don’t want to train them to become a successful jockey only, we want to train them to become a ‘person’ with integrity,” Chan said.
“There are lot of temptations for jockeys as the betting pool reaches over HK$100 million in one race. Many people are using different ways to get tips from the jockeys which are not allowed by the rules.”
Chan said there were cases that let her down as some of the jockeys attempted to “challenge the system” and found loopholes to make money.
It was just like when she was athlete affairs manager at the Sports Institute, and some soccer players became involved in match fixing after leaving the training centre for the professional league.
“These were the sad moments,” Chan said. “It’s not easy to get the opportunity to join the Apprentice Jockeys’ School and they should treasure the chance to develop themselves not only as a successful jockey but also a true person after spending years of training here.”