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Alfred Chan Ka-hei to seven pounds, finally – @nyracing91
The apprentice secured an important milestone at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, recording his 20th Hong Kong winner by leading all the way on Very Sweet Orange.
It is significant because he says adios to his 10-pound claim and now only has seven to play with.
Chan has faced criticism early in his career as he struggled to adapt to the pressure of Hong Kong racing.
It is a fishbowl – with high stakes, enormous betting pools and lots of scrutiny – and there is nowhere to hide.
Newcomers are going to make mistakes – that is their nature – but the difference for youngsters at Sha Tin is that they happen in front of millions of eyeballs. It is watched around the globe.
That weight of expectation is real and is something Chan, who rode 100 winners in New Zealand and Australia, acknowledges he’s had to deal with.
“It’s taken me a long time and it’s been a long process to get to this point [20 wins],” the likeable 25-year-old said. “It was a little bit slower than I expected.
“The biggest challenge has been overcoming negative thoughts. Sometimes I think ‘I’m not good enough for here’ but I know if I keep thinking like that I won’t go any further.
“I’ve just got to get rid of it, put it behind me, put my head down and keep working.
“I watch all the replays, we’ve got the mechanical horse and I work on that pretty much every day, I keep training and working on my fitness.”
It is fair to say Chan has things he still needs to work on – judgment of pace for one – but his numbers are not as bad as perceived.
His strike rate this season (7 per cent) is better than 11 other jockeys still on the roster – including Derek Leung Ka-chun, Neil Callan, Blake Shinn and Lyle Hewitson.
Chan’s 20 winners in Hong Kong have come from 277 rides but only 32 of them have started at $5 or shorter. Of those, seven have won while another 11 have finished second or third.
A large portion of his mounts have been $20 or longer – 115 – and it’s not easy to find winners when you’re on horses at those sort of prices (he has three).
For context, here are the five Hong Kong apprentices before Chan and how many rides it took them to reach 20 wins: Victor Wong Chun (209), Matthew Poon Ming-fai (108), Dylan Mo Hin-tung (259), Kei Chiong Ka-kei (183) and Jack Wong Ho-nam (314).
The “Poon Train” was a freak – the best Hong Kong apprentice since Matthew Chadwick – and Chiong was named Hong Kong’s most popular jockey after her first season in 2015-16.
On the numbers, Chan fits in between Mo and Jack Wong. They are not superstars but both are still chipping away in the system and there is no disgrace in that. Not everyone can be Joao Moreira, Zac Purton or Vincent Ho Chak-yiu.
Dropping to seven pounds will make Chan’s life more difficult, as will the introduction of a new 10-pound claimer in the form of Gary Lo King-yeung late next month.
“There will be more options for the trainers,” Chan said. “Hopefully, they will think there is not much of a difference between 10 pounds and seven pounds, but it will definitely make it harder for me. I have to keep working … the horse racing industry in Hong Kong is so competitive.”
Time will tell if Chan can make it in Hong Kong – it is not easy – but acknowledging the areas he needs to improve and having the right attitude gives him a fighting chance.