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LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM THE JERRY CHAU SAGA…


He could come across to some as the man of mystery of Hong Kong racing- something like a cross between the Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro and The Lone Ranger.

Possibly the strangest thing about everything surrounding Jerry Chau Chun-lok, 23, wasn’t even meant to be riding in Hong Kong- that is until karma came knocking on his door in 2020.


He was then flown from South Australia where he was continuing his apprenticeship back to Hong Kong as a very urgent replacement for friend and fellow apprentice jockey Gary Lo King-Yeung, below, who suddenly- and equally mysteriously- had his license to ride in Hong Kong withdrawn from the HKJC.

Hong Kong apprentices making their mark in SA

Fortunate to be indentured to the stable of former champion jockey Douglas Whyte, Jerry Chau, who, despite his great potential, and having ridden in Adelaide for Hall Of Fame trainer Leon Macdonald, had some believing he needed more experience.


Maybe, he did, but he hit the ground running by riding a double on his first day of race riding in Hong Kong.

This auspicious start to his career in Hong Kong couldn’t have been easy for the graduate of the HKJC’s apprentice program, but he seemed to relish the challenge.


His return to his hometown was at a time when Covid had struck, that infamous Hong Kong racing bubble was being inflated, and the young jockey had to compete against the experience of the duopoly of Joao Moreira and Zac Purton plus a strong chasing pack led by Karis Teetan and Vincent Ho.


Like the Sorcerer and the Apprentice, the duo of Whyte and Chau overcame hurdles and bedazzled owners and racing fans by being a results oriented team with these successes helping each other’s individual brands.

Of course, everyone loves a winner and the 10-pound claimer was being hailed as a “wunderkind” and quickly proved to be the most successful Hong Kong born apprentice to ride in the city since the days of Matthew Chadwick when riding for Tony Cruz.

After a very good and consistent run of winners coming in thick and fast, the budding bromance between Whyte and Chau hit a road bump and was seemingly mowed down by crosstown traffic.


What happened?


It’s rumoured that the apprentice might have gotten a little ahead of himself, which is anathema for someone like Douglas Whyte, who’s seen everything and more, especially during his 13 year reign as the champion jockey of Hong Kong.

With no more ties to his one-time boss and main support system, Jerry Chau was a bit like a man without a country- or in this case, a jockey with very good potential, but left out in the cold to fend for himself.


The rides dried up, he became a footnote with the racing media and it was mainly trainer Benno TP Yung, not exactly someone with a well stocked stable of equine talent, who gave him whatever he could- and he repaid the vote of confidence by winning on gallopers like Son Pak Foo.

Those in racing who look for value and aren’t drawn to the usual suspects and what “tipsters” throw out know that by travelling under the radar, Jerry Chau has brought in some value packed winners and place getters.


None of this could happen without the person doing the steering having the navigational skills to be able to make the right moves.


Will Jerry Chau be offered a ride on a proven Group 1 runner in a prestigious race in or outside of Hong Kong anytime soon?


One doubts it.


However, as he has done since the split with Douglas Whyte, he’ll be out there making his own luck and making things happen for himself.


In fact, at Shatin yesterday, he rode another perfect race on another decent priced winner.


Of course, moving forward is not going to be easy as, apart from the current marquee value names, there are others who would also like a taste of the dim sum pie and are out there doing their best against the backdrop these days of a very different Hong Kong and thinking of options.

For the HKJC, without a breeding industry and a city in the midst of daily change, these are interesting times to say the least.


There’s been a huge shift in the worldwide horse racing landscape with things like the spate of high profile pop-up races in Australia like the Everest topped off with more and more prize money.


Business models in every industry have been forced to change as have something far more important- life priorities in a post Covid world.


There are also reasons why some big names in horse racing might have either called time on their careers or are waiting for those who have a Big Picture view of What’s Next for horse racing.

Talented young riders currently in Hong Kong like Jerry Chau, Luke Ferraris and Lyle Hewitson, who all rode very good races to win yesterday must realise that they have a certain time frame to make their mark and cannot afford to lose opportunities- as jockeys.


No one’s getting younger, and, somehow, racing clubs lumbered with old school thinking need to be seen as not being a hindrance, but a help to those still in the game and not a James McDonald realise these opportunities.


It’s not about being swept up in greed and the “Instafame” game, appearing on a television reality show for has-beens, or thinking there’s going to be a chance of riding a super freak horse like Equinox.

It’s good to dream big, but…

For the current generation of young riders still in their twenties, it’s about doing the maths and being part of something that racing clubs everywhere are as yet to create.


This something is for a completely different customer group looking for a very different customer experience, where everything being learned today leads smoothly to the next destination in their careers.

It would not be nice if they are left high and dry and whistling Dixie on an uneven playing field.


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