• Alan Aitken

The tracks are about to get a whole lot bumpier for the Poon Train



Matthew Poon may well graduate from his apprenticeship with a 70th Hong Kong tonight at Happy, but what lies immediately ahead for him then is up in the air.

Aside from the obvious need to spend less time in the stewards' room being suspended and the maximum amount of time competing in races, the Poon Train is also about to hit the bend that slows downmost young jockeys - graduation to the senior ranks.

Poon looks the most talented junior in Hong Kong since Matthew Chadwick smashed all the records during his apprenticeship with leading trainer and former world class rider, Tony Cruz.

Chadwick blasted through his apprenticeship in 13 months from Deceomber 20, 2008 to January 10, 2010, assisted in no small part by the loyalty of Cruz, who put him on 314 of the stable's 532 runners during that period.

Chadwick rode 48 of the yard's 67 winners in that time, so with high profile chances for a top trainer to ride it made the job easier, even if it did come with added pressure.

The job for Poon with his allocated trainer David Hall has come with different hurdles.

Hall doesn't sit as high in the table as Cruz, so the same pressures have not been there, but Hall went through a losing streak last season of 146 runners - second only to the record 181-runner losing streak of Sean Woods some 12 years ago - and that was also a drag on Poon's form as he rode 59 of the losers.

Assuming Poon's 70th win comes soon, or in the next 79 rides anyway, his graduation to the senior ranks after 70 wins will sneak in under Vincent Ho's 727 rides to be the second-fastest ever.

Below is a table of most of the graduating apprentices in the last 15 years but it requires some explanation. Graduation did not always occur at 70 wins, as it does now automatically, nor did it occur upon the outriding of a claim - the two events were unconnected.


Howard Cheng lost his claim in a then-record 26 months but was not recognised as a senior until the following season, by which time he'd ridden 58 winners.


Alex Lai had ridden 102 winners by the time he was recognised as a graduate by the Jockey Club, in a presentation on July 1, 2008, at the final Sha Tin fixture of the season. The club must have decided to do some tidying up there, as Lai, Thomas Yeung and Terry Wong all had a coming out ceremony that day (below) despite having ridden for significantly different periods and with different win tallies.

And there has also been the issue of whether riders could outride their claims at all. In 2005-06, the local jockeys had been faring so poorly against the ex-pats that the Jockey Club introduced weight allowances for all of them, on a permanent basis, to put them back in the game. One or two, like Way Leung, even came out of retirement for it. Those senior claims remain in place although they cease at 250 career winners nowadays.

So comparing apples with apples isn't easy - there are a few nectarines and the odd papaya thrown into the basket - when we try to look at how apprentices fared in the aftermath of their graduation.

As a result, in the table above, I've decided to use the 70-wins in Hong Kong mark that defines an apprentice currently.

Cheng was a cautionary tale - ultimately in several ways after his disqualification in 2016 - and his fortunes played a role in the introduction of that weight allowance.

Champion apprentice twice under David Hayes, a record breaker with 37 victories in his final junior season (bear in mind that Poon rode 35 last season, with a lot more races conducted), Cheng's career quickly fell off a cliff after graduation. managed 22, 12, 13 and 7 wins in the four seasons after his commencement as a senior. After the claims were brought in, he rode at least 32 winners each season for the next six.


Each case is different, whether it's about rule changes or loss of form, but very few apprentices graduate to the senior ranks without taking a hit to their figures in the first year or two.

Look at Chadwick's progression.

His first 70 wins in 472 rides (14.8 %), then only 39 in his next 500 rides (7.8 %) and 91 in the next 1000 mounts (9.1 %) after graduating( right). And he was the standout apprentice success of the last decade and a half.

That is not unique to Hong Kong - it happens in all jurisdictions. Life is tougher as a senior.

Some riders experience a slow down after finishing their time as a junior, then get back on track over time, some never find their way back to the momentum they had as young riders with an eye-catching claim. Only the rarest talents sail through from apprentice to senior without a bump in the road.

In Poon's case, his next winner sees him join the seniors and his claim drops to three pounds from five, meaning that some owners and trainers will automatically look past him to the larger claims, regardless of his ability. Simple arithmetic is...well, simple, but assessing the quality of a jockey is much more complex and beyond many, so they default to the adding and subtracting game.


But Poon can take heart from the subsequent careers of not only Chadwick, but riders who were less precocious than him, like Ho, like last year's Hong Kong Mile winner Derek Leung (left), and like Keith Yeung, who came through at similar times and have all built a fine niche for themselves in the Hong Kong ranks despite that dip in their fortunes after graduation.


0 views

Hong Kong

©2017 by The HK Set. Proudly created with Wix.com