By Hans Ebert
He’s certainly proving his doubters wrong. An all-too-familiar mantra, especially emanating from certain quarters in the land down under whenever a young Australian rider is granted a license to ride in Hong Kong is that they’re “not worldly enough”. Added to this is that they’re “too young”, “too inexperienced”, and how Hong Kong will “eat them alive”. We enjoy our dim sum at Mott32, but we’re not exactly walking around with voracious appetites to devour talented young riders.
And so it was with Sam Clipperton when announced that he had been granted a three month license to ride in Hong Kong. Perhaps some were very sure that this position would go to Blake Shinn? Though an enigmatic and polarising figure in Australian racing, the man is brilliant when he turns it on. One hopes Hong Kong racing fans get to see Shinn ride here on a permanent basis though we know only too well that he would be a controversial addition to the riding ranks. Rumours of a run-in with another jockey after Oaks Day won’t help. Still, he’s a real talent.
As for Sam Clipperton, who served his entire apprenticeship with the great Ron Quinton, when interviewing him soon after his arrival to these shores, he was frank and realistic that riding here would be no stroll in the park. But he was confident that hard work would pay off along with his own God given talents as a rider. His wish was to see his contract extended for the entire season and how his partner Morgan was looking out for job offers.
He came off as a nice guy with his feet firmly planted on the ground. And, at that time, his feet firmly planted on the ground with a new pair of boots which he was very proud to have purchased. Did I expect him to stay longer than his three month stint? Not really, because getting stable support here to prove one’s self is so darn hard.
It might have seemed a long wait, but Sam Clipperton got off the mark at only his third meeting in Hong Kong with a double. One can only manage the relief. But two winners on the board is hardly reason for partying till it was 1999. But it provided the impetus needed. It opened up a few doors other than that of the John Moore stable. Moore has always supported Australian riding talent, especially those recommended by the very popular Tommy Berry. Sam Clipperton came highly recommended by Berry.
Clipperton went through a bit of a lull before coming roaring back in October with a 10,000 to 1 treble. Not bad going for a very promising 21-year-old rider, who was “too young” for Hong Kong. Is “too young” when someone is not old enough? How does that work? How does a baby learn to swim? You throw them into the deep end of the pool and see if they sink or swim. Sam Clipperton is swimming against the tide. And winning.
This same mantra of foreboding doom was chanted when Damian Lane arrived in Hong Kong. Lane succeeded admirably with the handful of opportunities given and will no doubt be back.
Same with Chad Schofield with whom Sam Clipperton began his career. And if he can keep away from incurring the wrath of the Stewards, the very talented young rider could have almost doubled the winners he has on the board right now: ten.
Before that, when it was announced that Tye Angland was to ride in Hong Kong, he was dismissed with a “Who?” Same with William Pike. Many probably thought Zac Purton wasn’t ready for prime time either. Word was that he preferred surfing to riding. That’s news to Zac.
When is any rider who’s proven themselves in their homeland “ready for Hong Kong?” Is it to do with when they have clocked enough of turf miles? And how much is enough? And is experience everything? Hong Kong seemed to go with “experience” whenever the riding ranks became thin. The Go To riders whenever that happened were those experienced to Hong Kong racing- mainly Dwayne Dunn and Craig Williams.
Williams again got the call up and rode in Hong Kong on the weekend. Yes, he rode a winner, but was also criticised by trainer Tony Cruz for circling the wagons on Anticipation in the Sa Sa Ladies Cup. Not to say Craig Williams made any tactical errors, but Tony Cruz knows a thing or two about good and not-so-good rides. But whatever the subjective case of rides, one hopes that this habit of going to the same well so many times stops, and Hong Kong racing can see some new faces in its riding ranks like, yes, we’ll mention him again just to bore some, and irritate others- Nooresh Juglall, below, Callan Murray from South Africa or Danielle Johnson from New Zealand.
Johnson would certainly get the support of trainer Caspar Fownes who, like us, considers her a terrific jockey. She and Kei Chiong battling out a finish? How good would that look? How good would that be to speed up the changing face of racing?
Over the years, name or experienced riders have been granted licenses to ride in Hong Kong and, for one reason or another, like John Lennon’s lucky man in “Day In The Life”, they just never made the grade. Tom Quealy, for instance, despite his association with the great Frankel, never past Go and collected $200. In short, Quealy wasn’t Frankel, and hardly a draw card with local racing fans.He quickly returned home after riding- what was it?- one winner?
Maxime Guyon looked like being the new Steve Cauthen when he burst onto the scene in Hong Kong, especially through his association with the champion Ambitious Dragon. Guyon was the Gaelic flavour of the month. But that bubble burst before it even became a soupçon of a flambé.
Meanwhile, some who have ridden here have been very very lucky to get out of Hong Kong just in time, and before a Cosmo Chan-type chain mail brought them down as it did a former Sydney-based jockey in the well-documented and unfortunate “Tips for Bet” saga.
Money and middlemen really are the root of all evil. And in horse racing, they lie in wait like Fagin to see who’s the weakest and greediest link in the chain before pouncing and owning them for a hundred pieces of silver pieces.
At least in the past, this was the magnet for riding in Hong Kong: Stay a few months, make as much money as quickly as possible, and leave without getting caught with one’s hand in the cookie jar. It’s why so many second and third rate riders or those with their best days behind them make frequent pit stops in Malaysia, and Mauritius. Add Singapore to that list. It’s summertime and the money is easy with the backing of bookies.
Hong Kong has done much to get rid of the deadweight, but Fagins always find ways to get to little people in order to have some form control. But, overall, those who choose to ride in Hong Kong know that integrity is not just a word just bandied about. It’s all about playing by the rules. It’s what separates the men from the boys.
On Wednesday, Sam Clipperton rode his tenth winner of a three month stint (he was a late replacement for Jack Wong who was involved in a fall the race earlier) that has been extended for a full season. The reason: The young rider is a quick learner, he’s adapted to riding against riders with hugely different styles, he works hard, he not only has the support of John Moore, and is now in demand by all the local trainers.
Sam Clipperton is not only making the best of the opportunities that come his way, he’s creating a future for himself by constantly improving as a jockey. Hong Kong forces one to do that for those wishing to go the distance. It’s not only about being a jockey who can deliver. It’s also about how one presents themselves to trainers, owners and the Chinese racing media. It’s the ability to market one’s self. Douglas Whyte knows all about that. So does Zac Purton. Nash Rawiller has learned how important this is and which has helped change his career and motivation around this season.
Riders in Hong Kong have no agents to get them rides. It’s about being equal parts rider and businessman. Chad Schofield had a head start of sorts by having spent a number of years growing up here, and seeing first hand how his father, Glyn Schofield, below, had to work in a competitive environment that included Whyte, Prebble, Felix Coetzee, Robbie Fradd, Shane Dye and so many other good riders.
As Douglas Whyte, who’s “only” won thirteen consecutive Hong Kong Jockey Premierships says, “At the South African Jockeys Academy we learned all about discipline- a strict discipline that has made us who we are today. Racing in Hong Kong is a different type of school that teaches us another kind of discipline. It’s about focus, realising that you’re only as good as your last winner, getting along with trainers, making the time to understand owners and their friends, and realising that you’re never too young or too old to learn. I’m still learning because horse racing is evolving and becoming a more global sport.
“Sam Clipperton has his whole future in front of him and is doing a great job of improving as a rider and with a sense of purpose and discipline. He’ll do very well here, and after Hong Kong, anywhere else he might choose to ride”.