Rides for champion trainer John Size come few and far between for some of Hong Kong’s most seasoned jockeys, but South African Grant van Niekerk has landed one after just four meetings on the scene.
While many jockeys adopt the mantra of not contacting Size and allowing him to seek them out, Van Niekerk took a different approach with the master trainer.
Not shy from the big stage, Van Niekerk said he had been contacting the 10-time champion trainer looking for rides before he finally obliged, giving him the chance on former Australian galloper Mr So And So, who is having his first Hong Kong start in the Class Two Washington D.C Handicap (1,400m).
The 27-year-old has impressed upon his arrival in Hong Kong, managing to win three races in his 20 starts so far, including one with his very first ride.
The departure of Joao Moreira this season has left a gaping hole in the Hong Kong jockeys’ room and Van Niekerk hopes he can play some part in filling it.
Size and Moreira paired up 193 times in 2017-18 for 52 wins at a deadly strike rate of 27 per cent, compared to their overall winning percentages of 17 and 20 per cent respectively.
Helped by his ability to ride at the bottom weight of 114 pounds, Van Niekerk said he was hoping to put in a strong performance to get a foot in the door.
“It is my first ride for Mr Size,” he said. “I want to do as well as possible to hopefully get more rides in the future.”
Size had previously indicated he would be booking “in form” jockeys’ to fill the void left by Moreira.
“Typically in Hong Kong, whoever’s winning will get the offers,” he said.
Fully aware of how fickle the racing environment can be in Hong Kong, Van Niekerk said he was very happy to be able to ride genuine winning chances so early in his stint.
“I am very pleased, I am getting nice chances … obviously if you get the chance, you can make it happen,” he said.
“For me so far, I have had a great start, I just have to build on that and do my best to continue.”
Size, who is yet to find a winner this season from only five starters, will bring three runners to Sha Tin looking to get off the mark.
Mr So And So is the only one of his runners to have been to the races before, having performed strongly in Australia as a three-year-old, where he raced in Group One and Two company before making the move to Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, fellow jockey Douglas Whyte is praying for “give” in the ground when he mounts General Dino in race four after he was just headed in one of the final races of last season on him.
“He’s a little bit hit and miss, he’s a horse that ran very well at the back end of last season and I think a lot of that contributed to the fact there was give in the ground,” he said.
While looking set to break through a number of times, the David Ferraris-trained gelding is winless in Hong Kong so far after coming from France as a two-year-old.
Whyte will come up against Le Panache in the Class Four Los Angeles Handicap (1,600m) after he rode him to a dominant win in Class Five company during the first meeting of the season.
“I think first-up, a mile is a good place to start [for General Dino], but ultimately he looks like he will appreciate the 1,800m,” Whyte said.