All set for the ride of her life against the boys

All set for the ride of her life against the boys

Kei Chiong, the first local female jockey to compete in Hong Kong for more than 15 years, can inspire budding women riders

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Kei Chiong rides District Commander in her first race in Hong Kong.
Photo: Kenneth Chan

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Chiong has shown she could compete with the big boys in the local racing scene.
Photo: Kenneth Chan

After Kei Chiong Ka-kei left her own custom-made jockeys' room at Sha Tin on Sunday and rode Distinct Commander in race five, she became the first local woman to compete in Hong Kong for more than 15 years - and Jockey Club officials hope she can inspire a new generation of female professional riders.

After showing rapid progress during a six-month stint in New Zealand, the 22-year-old Chiong was chosen as the club's newest apprentice, becoming the first local woman since Carol Yu Wing-sze in May 2000 to ride in races at Sha Tin or Happy Valley.

On Sunday, she rode in four races, and showed she could compete with the best. She nearly won the second race, before being pipped by Douglas Whyte, champion jockey for 13 consecutive seasons.

Chiong might be the first female in a long time to ride here, but she won't be the last, and it is unlikely there'll be as long a wait for the next woman rider.

Success means carrying your own weight.
Photo: Kenneth Chan

This season, six of the Apprentice Jockeys' School's 14 incoming students are girls. This mirrors the larger number of females riding, especially among apprentices, around the world.

"Kei coming back from New Zealand and achieving this goal can give those girls some inspiration," jockeys' school headmistress Amy Chan Lim-chee said. "It will make a difference to them to have a role model out there riding."

Chiong hasn't been given any favours and Chan stresses the new media darling is no "token female", nor her selection a publicity stunt.

"We treat girls and boys the same, they need to reach certain benchmarks - if they don't reach that, we can't let them continue," Chan said. "We don't pick someone just because they are female. It's Kei's time, and she has been chosen for her riding capabilities."

As with all local apprentices, male or female, the learning curve required to go from apprentice school newcomer to competing in what is considered the world's toughest arena for jockeys is a steep one.

Growing up in Tsuen Wan's concrete jungle of housing estates, Chiong's only previous contact with horses before entering the Jockey Club ranks was on a couple of trail rides on quiet ponies at an adventure park on the mainland.

She showed enough affinity with horses that her father, after seeing an advertisement in a newspaper, encouraged the youngest of his two daughters to try out for a place in the school.


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Watching the races from New Zealand was trainer Allan Sharrock, who guided Chiong through the latter part of her apprenticeship. After an average start, she improved through hard work and dedication, Sharrock said.

When asked what got her through those challenging early times in New Zealand, Chiong comes up with a confident answer: "From the first day I entered the jockeys' school, I knew what I was there to do. My aim was to become a successful jockey, so when I was frustrated I would keep thinking about that and push through."

Sharrock has a reputation for spotting talent, and it was at a racecourse in New Zealand earlier this year that he first recognised that Chiong was ready to compete against top jockeys such as Joao Moreira and Zac Purton in Hong Kong.

She didn't win that race, but Sharrock was impressed.

"After the race she thought I was going to criticise the ride, but I said to her, 'If you keep riding like that you are going to make it to Hong Kong'," he said. "It was a 10 out of 10 ride. She didn't win the race, but she came from a wide gate, she gave her horse the best run in the race - her poise and timing in that ride was spot on … She can compete in her homeland."

 

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
All set for ride of her life

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