By Nicholas Godfrey
Hong Kong: Leading South African jockey Grant van Nierkirk, who was going great guns during his second season in Hong Kong, was sacked on Monday by the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) with immediate effect.
Although the 28-year-old has been an habitual offender with regard to careless riding during the current season, an HKJC statement said his licence had been withdrawn “as a result of a conduct-related matter which does not pertain to any race riding or integrity-related matter”.
A report in the South China Morning Post said: “It is understood he was involved in a domestic dispute.”
The shock news, which comes at a time when Hong Kong is light on jockeys owing to COVID-19 restrictions on travel, means the region loses one of its most talented riders.
Van Niekirk currently sits in fifth place in the Hong Kong jockeys’ premiership with 37 winners from 350 rides during the 2019-20 season – a creditable performance considering he has missed ten meetings through five bans since September.
He rode 31 winners last season in Hong Kong to add to his laurels at home in South Africa, where he has ridden more than 700 winners, among them ten G1 victories including five with star mare Inara and three with Oh Susanna, aboard whom he landed Cape Town’s number one race, the Sun Met, in 2018.
Van Niekirk failed to attend a barrier trial in which he had been scheduled to participate at Sha Tin on Friday morning but had eight rides on Sunday’s card at the track. He has now been taken off six booked mounts at Happy Valley on Wednesday.
According to the South China Morning Post report, police have not been involved in Van Niekirk’s alleged domestic dispute and he remains in Hong Kong.
South Australian apprentice Jerry Chau, who has ridden 62 winners this season, has been granted a licence to ride in Hong Kong until the end of the season after he has completed the compulsory quarantine period.