Life on the fast track

Life on the fast track

Two local youngsters are going through their paces as aspiring race jockeys


Geoffrey Leung (left) and Alvin Ng.
Geoffrey Leung (left) and Alvin Ng.
Photo: Edmond So/SCMP
It takes only around a minute to complete a 1,200m race, but jockeys train for many years to achieve that time.

Up-and-coming jockeys Geoffrey Leung Yat-yin and Alvin Ng Ka-chun can tell you all about it. They both know just how much sweat horse-race training entails.

Geoffrey is a trainee at Hong Kong Jockey Club Apprentice Jockeys' School. He is 19 but just 1.6 metres tall. The student is in his third year at the school, which nurtures future generations of jockeys for the city.

Geoffrey started training in horseracing at the start of his Year 12 studies at King George V School. He was 16 at the time.

"I first rode a horse when I travelled to New Zealand," he recalls. "I can hardly remember the details as it happened so many years ago, but I really enjoyed it."

When he heard the Jockeys' School was recruiting youngsters, he signed up. "I decided to give it a try. I think my body type fits the job quite well," he says.

The school's students train for three years on average in the Racing Trainee Programme. Besides honing their horse-riding skills, they also keep abreast of their other studies. So even if they do not end up becoming professional jockeys, they have the option to continue their academic careers.

They take courses in sport science, nutrition, and horseracing theory. They also study English and subjects like IT and music to round out their education.

So Geoffrey has a packed schedule. He wakes at 4am each day and heads out to the stables for a long day of training and studying.

"In the first year, we rode our school's horse at the Sheung Shui stable. After learning the basics, we came back to the Sha Tin racecourse to train with retired racehorses," he explains. "I was exhausted at first even though I had played badminton and rugby and competed in triathlon when I was at KGV. Fortunately I managed to cope with the new challenges."

To become an apprentice jockey, he will need to undergo another two to three years of training, which will include racing at foreign racecourses - and preferably winning there. He'll need to watch his weight, too. He will have to stay at around 46kg so he won't be too heavy for horses during races.

Alvin, 23, can show him the way. Already an apprentice jockey, Alvin has passed the gruelling beginner's stage. After completing his overseas training three years ago, he is now an apprentice in trainer Dennis Yip's stable. So far he has 46 wins to his name, but to complete his apprenticeship he will need to win a total of 70 races.

The Form Five graduate from Jockey Club Ti-I College is a rising star in local horseracing. Yet before he joined the school, he had never ridden a horse.

"I find the job really interesting and enjoyable," says Alvin, who trained in Australia and New Zealand before coming back to race in Hong Kong. "As well as learning racing skills, it keeps me healthy and teaches me discipline."

Being a good jockey needs more than just training, he adds.

"You have to love animals," Alvin explains. "If you get along well with animals, you will be fine on horseback. It also helps to have a never-give-up attitude and to be brave", as there is always a risk of injury during training and races.

If you want to follow in their footsteps, you are in luck - the Apprentice Jockeys' School will start recruiting on Monday.

Applicants need to be 16 or older and have completed Form Four. They will have to go through a fitness test designed by Baptist University as well as attend an interview and take a practical test on a horse.

Sam Yip Ka-keung, the school's senior programme officer, says instructors will walk candidates through their first steps. "They don't need to worry about having no horse-riding experience. Our instructors will show them what to do," Yip says. "We want to see how well they get on with horses and how good they are on horseback."

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