In the past few weeks, many have wondered out aloud as to whether the HKJC’s Apprentice Scheme, which was much touted for a nanu second about a year ago, is sitting in limbo, mon, with Jimmy Cliff as there’s been ticky boo about it since the much-ballyhooed arrival of apprentice Alvin Ng a few years ago- and boyohboy, there was so much expected from him.
Here, thought many, was the new Matthew Chadwick- but better.
Well, as we now know, after over 150 rides, young Alvin, indentured to trainer Dennis Yip, has not ridden a winner, whereas the only other apprentice in town- Dickie Lui- though a much-improved rider- is still prone to Mr Bean moments where his fine motor skills go awry and get in the way of senior riders.
As with anything in life, these kids need mentors as they move from kindergarten to secondary schooling in New Zealand or Australia to then being suddenly thrown into the lion’s den of racing in Hong Kong with many of the best jockeys in the world- a pretty big difference to riding in Tamsworth, Nowra or even Gosford against, sorry, but pretty average riders and country meetings.
And here lies a vital missing link: Mentoring at home base.
This is where we have always been advocating that one of the best- if not, THE best mentor for apprentices here would be the recently-retired Felix Coetzee.
The Cat is one- if not THE best jockey we’ve seen- an incredible judge of pace with a clock doing sectionals in his head, one of the strongest riders in a finish with no need to flog a horse to death and, of course, hugely experienced- on and off the track-about the horse racing world in Hong Kong through his years here, first, riding as stable jockey for Brian Kan ping-chee, and then his great association with the mighty Silent Witness when with Tony Cruz.
Then, of course, there are his skills as a guitarist who knows two chords and is South Africa’s Bob Dylan writing dirges about Highway 61 in Capetown and The Ballad Of Joe Berg.
Though we understand that The Cat will be heavily involved in the apprentice school in South Africa from where he and best mate Dougie Whyte graduated, surely there’s a way where the HKJC can use one of our favorite jockeys and gentlemen in what could be some form of “cross-cultural exchange program”?
This is where local apprentices can gain more experience in the school of hard knocks in South Africa under Felix The Cat, who just might be persuaded to provide some on-the-ground mentoring in Hong Kong for a few months out of the year.
Right now, from where we sit, local apprentices and even senior local jockeys are making up the numbers to show that it’s all fair in love and war and racing.
It’s localization for the sake of localization and something that- knock knock- rings more hollow than any song by Tony Orlando and Dawn.
Though there have been those instances where riders like Derek Leung and Keith Yeung have benefitted from some part-time schooling from the likes of Douglas Whyte to mend their errant ways- and, let’s get real here, why would he tell them all the tricks of the trade when they’re part of the competition?- there needs to be something far more permanent and ongoing in place.
Suspending these apprentices and even those local senior riders who might still have not made the grade, and having them sit it out for a few meetings and then return after forty days and forty nights in the wilderness having learnt bugger all is surely a pretty silly circle game that’s not taking anyone anywhere?
This is where the experience of a Felix Coetzee on a “semi” full-time basis -and a “cultural exchange program” between, let’s say, Hong Kong and South Africa, can not only improve an area of local horse racing that is more than a quick-fix bandage, but which could become something more “evolutionary” than what’s (kinda) in place right now.