The difference between winning and losing a race can be minuscule, but on Sunday at Sha Tin coming up a metre short has most likely cost trainer Almond Lee his career.
Lee needed one more win to reach the Jockey Club’s performance benchmark of 16 for the season – something he has failed to do twice before – meaning one of the six horses he was saddling up had to stick their head across the line first for him to keep his licence.
He had two favourites on the 11-race card, Best Effort in the opener (who finished eighth), and Enjoy Life in the sixth.
Karis Teetan did his best to try and ride Enjoy Life to victory and ensure Lee’s safety but the finishing post came too quickly and he was third to Viva Council – the margin a head by a neck.
Lee had two more chances to avoid the dreaded third strike, which triggers a hearing with the Jockey Club Licensing Committee where he has to “show cause” as to why he should keep his licence, but Moneymore and Keen Venture weren’t able to get the job done.
Given none of the previous six trainers who have contested the “show cause” hearing have managed to keep their ticket, the 53-year-old faces an uphill battle to be back at Sha Tin next season.
But while he came up just short on Sunday, Lee said it was culmination of all the near misses – he had 23 seconds and 22 thirds – which cost him.
“Of course I’m disappointed, I’m going to lose my job – the thing I’ve been doing for 20-something years – but it’s racing, it happens,” said Lee, who joined the training ranks in 2004-05 after a long stint as assistant to David Hayes.
“When you’re not doing well you can’t blame luck, it makes you look unprofessional, but of course luck was involved here. If you have a bit more luck, you do a bit better. An inside draw or an outside draw and it is a completely different story. I had so many narrow defeats.
“I will go to the ‘show cause’ hearing, but we all know that no one has ever had success there.”
The hearing will be held on Monday morning.