At Happy Valley on Wednesday night, Hugh Bowman will not only be out to defend his title after his victory in last year’s LONGINES International Jockeys Championship, but also to show his Hong Kong fans why he has also just been crowned the 2017 LONGINES World’s Best Jockey.
However, Bowman – like many of the other 11 superstars whom he will be competing with for Wednesday’s HK$800,000 four-race series – is cautious about his chances, adding to the belief that 2017’s IJC appears an absolutely wide-open event, something that only adds to the certainty of a thrilling evening.
“Last year I looked to have two really good chances, but though a couple of mine are drawn well this time, they don’t look as strong. And in the first leg I ride what seems to be an average one,” Bowman mused.
Sounding a shade more positive, though, the Australian maestro, who recently won a third Cox Plate aboard the now increasingly iconic Winx, added: “But at least that one (Smart Baby) is trained by Caspar Fownes. He’s ‘King of the Valley’ so maybe he can work his magic.”
Regarding Happy Valley, Bowman added: “It’s a tight circuit and there is lots of early pressure which is not what I’m used to in Australia, where I mostly ride. It’s important to get a good position and of course it helps to be on the best horse.”
Reigning Hong Kong Champion Jockey Joao Moreira, the 2012 IJC winner, also suggests it’s going to be an all-to-play-for sort of night: “I’m happy with my horses but it looks really even and I don’t have the best barrier draws.”
Moreira, of course, has tasted a mass of Happy Valley success but French ace Pierre-Charles Boudot is being touted as a very possible winner of the series despite the fact that the Frankie Lor-trained Mr Kool – his mount in Leg 1 – will be his first ever ride around Hong Kong’s famous city track.
The Club’s Chief Executive Officer Mr. Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges; Mr. Andrew Harding, Executive Director, Racing Authority; Mr. Anthony Kelly, Executive Director, Racing Business and Operations and jockeys pose for a group photo.
First row from left: Pierre-Charles Boudot (France), Silvestre de Sousa (UK), Leandro Henrique (Brazil), Ryan Moore (UK), Flavien Prat (USA), Karis Teetan (Hong Kong), Keita Tosaki (Japan),
Zac Purton (Hong Kong), Joao Moreira (Hong Kong), Derek Leung (Hong Kong), Cristian Demuro (Italy) and Hugh Bowman (Australia);
Second row from left: Mr. Anthony Kelly, Mr. Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges and Mr. Andrew Harding.
At Tuesday's meeting with the media, Boudot – whose 300 winners last year broke all previous European records – was told more than once what a good chance he had, each time responding with a laugh as if to indicate that he couldn’t quite believe it.
“For a long time I’ve wanted to be a part of this event and I’m just thrilled to be here.
I’ve been told I’ve got a chance but I don’t know the form of the horses I’ve been given,” he said.
“I've spoken a little with Maxime (Guyon) and Mickael (Barzalona) and they have told me it's a pretty unique track. But I'm used to riding all kinds of different layouts so I don't think that being a first-timer will pose too much of a problem.”
It would be great to get a good start over here as I will be riding in Hong Kong in January and February. At least most of my horses seem to be quite well drawn. I hope I can take advantage.
French-born Flavien Prat, who rides in the United States and represents that nation on Wednesday, said: “It’s my first time in Hong Kong and I’m massively looking forward to it. I will do some handicapping tonight. I will go through each race. Although I've watched some race videos, it might not be too much help because the races tomorrow are full of jockeys who aren't Happy Valley regulars. There will be a lot of different styles on show.
“I’m very proud to be French, and the USA’s representative in this challenge.”
Mauritius-born Karis Teetan – representing Hong Kong and currently third in the jockeys’ championship – said: “This is my first time riding in the IJC and I’m so happy to be taking part. I’ve learnt a lot since I’ve been here and this is a massive opportunity for me plus it helps, of course, that I know the track well. Mauritius is a small country and people over there are very proud of what I’m doing over here.”
Japan’s champion, Keita Tosaki, said: “The first time I participated in the Jockey Challenge it was a little intimidating. This being my third time though, I feel like I can relax and enjoy myself. It also looks like I will be riding some nice horses this year so I hope I can win it!”
Ryan Moore – a two-time winner of both the IJC and World’s Best Jockey Award –
admitted: “I haven’t had time to check out on my rides yet. But I love being here and of all the events like this around the world, this one is the best.”
The five other riders aiming to take the title are Derek Leung (representing Hong Kong), Zac Purton (Hong Kong), Silvetsre de Sousa (Britain), Leandro Henrique (Brazil) and Cristian Demuro (Italy).
The scene is set, and whoever emerges victorious, Happy Valley racegoers are in for a treat on Wednesday night as the world’s best jockeys battle it out.