By Jon Lees
Hong Kong: Jockeys in Hong Kong have had their careless riding records wiped clean and been told to expect more fines in future in a bid to ensure there are enough riders to go round.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club has taken the unprecedented step as the number of riders on its roster has dipped to 19 following the sackings of Grant Van Niekerk and Gary Lo.
Until the end of the season careless riding offences, which usually carry a two-meeting ban, will incur a one-day suspension and a fine equivalent to a jockey’s average day’s prize-money.
Apprentice Victor Wong was the first to be sanctioned under the new regime, collecting a one day ban and HK$10,000 fine (just over £1,000) at Sha Tin on Sunday. Previous good riding records will continue to be taken into account.
Hong Kong’s chief stipendiary steward Kim Kelly told the South China Morning Post that the rules had been “tweaked to make the second day a monetary fine so there are sufficient jockeys for connections to make a reasonable choice between.”
“Rather than having to react to [a shortage] if it happens, it’s fairer on the jockeys if we tell them upfront and put it in place for the remainder of the season,” he said.
“A shortage could easily occur when you are already a couple short [of the regular number] and then lose more to injury or suspension.”
He continued: “Everybody’s careless riding record with the exception of Alfred Chan has been reset to zero for the remainder but still with recognition of those who have a good race-riding record.
“If someone was at two or three [suspensions] and was not entitled to good race riding, they come back to the base penalty. For the first three suspensions, depending on the severity, the penalty will be one day, plus a one day fine.”
French jockey Antoine Hamelin, one of the jockeys brought in to bolster the rider ranks, began his Hong Kong career in decisive fashion with a double on his first day.
The 2012 Prix du Jockey Club winner had to complete a 14-day isolation before he launched his three month stay by winning two handicaps.
“It’s a perfect first day for me,” Hamelin said. “I’ll try to continue and I have to say thank you to all the owners and trainers for the support and the chances they’ve given me.”