Trainer Tony Millard has made a plea to the racing media and fans not to be too impatient in their expectations of new apprentice jockey Victor Wong Chun when he kicks off his local career at Sha Tin on Sunday.
“I’m very happy to have Victor in my stable. I like to use the apprentices, the claim is very important for the handicap. But I hope we can be conservative with our praise and generous with our encouragement – that’s what they need,” Millard said.
“But in Hong Kong, everyone wants a hero overnight. We’ll limit his rides so expectations aren’t too high and we’ll be trying to get quality. It’s his entire future we’re talking about, not just now.
“He’s 24 years old, he’s a young man, not a boy, and he has an advantage because he has a 10-pound allowance and is strong – in the mornings he’s been able to hold some horses which I thought might be suspect.
“There will be things he needs to brush up on and, frankly, I haven’t seen him ride so it’s going to be an eye-opener, but I ask you to not be too critical. Give him a chance.”
Millard said that pressures to perform too well, too soon have impacted the careers of other apprentices and he would be trying to guard against the same happening with Wong.
“Look back at Alvin Ng [Ka-chun]. Very seldom have I seen an apprentice be so impressive his first couple of meetings then everything came apart and it was a disaster, “Millard said.
“Behind the scenes, the apprentice school headmistress Amy Chan [Lim-chee] was working very hard with many others and the Jockey Club spends a lot of money on their training but Alvin’s time ended up very disappointing even though I thought that he had real ability.
“I don’t want to criticise anyone but there were a couple of things that could have been done differently and maybe he wouldn’t have ended up where he is now. If you think of Kei Chiong [Ka-kei], she started quieter and built up and I think that’s the way to go.”
Wong has already ridden more than 100 winners in his training periods in Australia, first in Tasmania and more recently in South Australia, and he credits the highlight win as a 194-1 chance in Tasmania.
“He was an emergency runner, there was no expectation on the horse so to be able to win on him was a great memory,” he said.
But Wong admits Hong Kong will be different and his assigned trainer Millard underscored that at Friday’s meet the press session.
“When I came to Hong Kong, I thought I knew everything but I needed to learn to train again. Hong Kong is Hong Kong. It’s not South Australia or Tasmania or South Africa – it is Hong Kong,” Millard said.
“I’m not saying I need to retrain Victor – basically he would know everything he needs to know – but this is Hong Kong.
“They race differently, they position horses differently and as Victor himself said, you have some of the best jockeys in the world here and they are hungry to win. I don’t need to retrain him, he needs to do that himself.”
One of the things Wong will need to change is his nickname from South Australia as “The Mower Man” – Victa is popular brand of lawnmower in Australia but 95 per cent of Hong Kong fans won’t know what a lawnmower is, let alone the brands.
And he recognises the racing will be different, something he already experienced in the switch from Tasmania to South Australia.
“In Tasmania, the jockeys race to the 400m mark before they start to push the horse, and in Adelaide the jockeys ride closer and they start looking to get their running at the 600m,” Wong observed.
“In Hong Kong, they ride really close and they take a position very fast, so that will be different. There is no particular jockey I model myself on but if some jockey is good with the whip, I will watch and learn how to do that better.
“If another jockey is very good at making the horse jump fast, then I will watch and try to learn what they are doing in the gates. I’m excited to be riding here. It’s my dream to be riding in Hong Kong against so many top jockeys. I just want to keep learning and do my best.”