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Youngsters groomed to be top jockeys

Young riders hope to win a place and finish ahead in Jockey Club's trainee programme, writes Victoria Duthie.

Balancing on short stirrups with reins held close, three young riders canter around the track. With dreams of becoming professional jockeys, they are part of the Jockey Club's Racing Trainee Programme. 

Recruitment for the six-year programme started yesterday and runs until July 27. It aims to induct 25 youngsters into the equine field by providing both academic and vocational education. 

"This dual approach really does provide young people with a bright future," said Amy Chan Lim Chee, the headmistress of the Apprentice Jockeys' School. 

Aside from racing techniques, Chan said students would be taught English-language skills and a range of academic subjects including sports science and financial management.

Students would also be able to train overseas, she said, citing Dicky Liu Cheuk Yin, who spent two years in New Zealand and is now an apprentice jockey with 40 wins in Hong Kong under his belt.

"Not everyone can take the pressure," Liu said. "It is easy to lose confidence since a small mistake can break a race." 

Applicants for the programme should weigh close to 48kg and be at least 15 years old. 

In addition to their work duties - which start at 3.30am and include stable work, riding lessons and academic classes - trainees are expected to maintain a high level of personal fitness. 

"They [applicants] should be committed, have respect for others and love animals," Chan said.

On average, only three applicants each year succeed in becoming certified jockeys, with salaries for racing trainees starting at HK$9,000. 

The Jockey Club is also recruiting stable assistants, with jobs open to anyone over the age of 18 who has completed Form Three. The starting salary is about HK$10,000, with a possible stake in future winnings. 

"Horses do not just obey anyone," said Liu. A win is a "reflection of a good relationship between the rider and the horse".