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So proud to be involved in this amazing Japanese invasion of the HKIR 2019!! See you next weekend in Japan – @CSoumillon
After being spruiked as one of the most competitive jockey rosters in years at the start of the season, Hong Kong’s race to the championship is looking entirely predicable.
While no one realistically expected anyone outside Zac Purton or Joao Moreira to win the title, the middle tier looked set to pinch a handful of wins off the pair at the very least and produce a fascinating battle.
The duo is already well clear of the chasing pack and are in a league of their own in Hong Kong, winning around 35 per cent of the races this season, an incredible feat considering they have both missed meetings due to suspension.
The departures of Aldo Domeyer, Umberto Rispoli and Regan Bayliss – the first two in the middle of their contracts – are set to leave a gaping hole in the roster while the powerful Jockey Club licensing committee will decide the fate of the suspended Alberto Sanna this month.
Meanwhile, not far away, the Japan Racing Association has been able to attract the likes of Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore, William Buick, Christophe Soumillon, Oisin Murphy, Damian Lane and Brenton Avdulla on short-term deals during the Australian and European off-seasons.
The JRA’s ability to land the big fish over the past six months is undoubtedly an ego hit to the Jockey Club. However, the reality is that it is harder than ever to attract the premier jockeys to Hong Kong.
@oismurphy is a MAN ON A MISSION ️— World Horse Racing (@WHR) December 4, 2019
Wednesday: Ride at Sha Tin
Ride at Happy Valley
Thursday: Fly to Japan
Friday: Enter jockey quarantine
Saturday: Ride at Chukyo
Saturday night: Fly to Hong Kong
Sunday: Ride at Sha Tin
Monday: Fly to Japan pic.twitter.com/Lw5fXZi7uU
Japan’s rise to power in the last decade has seen big-name jockeys look to the Land Of The Rising Sun as the go-to place to spend their off-seasons.
There, they are treated like rock stars, given a manager – a luxury they are not allowed in Hong Kong – rarely have to ride light as most of their racing is at set weights and they can attach themselves to horses who will travel globally. Look at Damian Lane who won a Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate with Japanese-trained horses on the back of his ultra-successful stint. There are more races, more rides and therefore more options.
In Hong Kong, a jockey’s weight dictates what they can ride with most of the racing under handicap conditions and they are forced to punch around outside chances in Class Four and Five with many trainers and owners unwilling to give them a winning chance.
While Purton and Moreira are world-class riders, their duopoly on the best rides in Hong Kong has many reluctant to leave what they have at home to come and ride scraps for what might be a handful of winners at best. Silvestre de Sousa and Alexis Badel are both terrific riders – but they are the exceptions and they’ve established their credentials over a number of years.
It is a daunting prospect for a new jockey to arrive at Sha Tin and have to enter the trainers’ stand each morning to beg for rides.
To highlight how tough it is in Hong Kong for visiting jockeys, Murphy was granted a four-meeting license by the Jockey Club last season and had just 16 rides, resulting in one single placegetter.
This season in Japan, Murphy has enjoyed 168 rides for 26 winners including the prized Group One Japan Cup last month.
One only has to look at the likes of Blake Shinn and Regan Bayliss, who both came to Hong Kong from Australia as multiple Group One winners and were regarded as top-class in their own jurisdiction.
In the past three meetings, they have had just six rides between them.
Rispoli, a Group One winning jockey in his own right summed the situation up best when announcing his departure from Hong Kong this week.
“I miss that [Group One winning] feeling, I need to get back that feeling,” he said. “I am now 31-years-old and I want to see if I can get some better opportunities.”
With only 12 Group One races, plus three four-year-old Classic Series races a season, big events are few and far between in Hong Kong.
With double the amount of Group Ones and stacks of other high-level races going on in Japan, Hong Kong is faced with the reality of playing second fiddle to the JRA.