Van Niek­erk go­ing big in Hong Kong

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW HAR­RI­SON

MANY were of­fer­ing short odds that Grant van Niek­erk’s stint in Hong Kong would not be a long one.

The ta­lented rider’s some­time cav­a­lier ap­proach to rac­erid­ing had seen him sus­pended on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions and it was thought that the tough school that is Hong Kong where the stipen­di­ary stew­ards take a dim view of any way­ward rid­ing, would find Van Niek­erk, pic­tured above, out in a hurry. It’s been ex­actly the op­po­site.

The 27-year-old has taken the former Bri­tish colony by storm, mak­ing his mark with his very first ride.

In what is be­lieved to be a first for Hong Kong, trainer Jimmy Ting Koon-ho and Van Niek­erk en­tered rar­efied air on the open­ing day of the 201819 sea­son at Sha Tin, com­bin­ing for the first win­ner of their Hong Kong ca­reers in the very first race of the term.

Since then Van Niek­erk’s ser­vices have been sought af­ter and, in a ju­ris­dic­tion, where su­per­sti­tion is rife a ‘lucky’ jockey is half­way there.

Five wins

Van Niek­erk rode a dou­ble at Shatin on Satur­day, tak­ing his cur­rent tally of wins to five, yes­ter­day’s win­ners came cour­tesy of Ting and Tony Mil­lard.

But as the South China Morn­ing Post re­ported, it is rides for cham­pion trainer John Size that come few and far be­tween for some of Hong Kong’s most sea­soned jock­eys, but Van Niek­erk landed one af­ter just four meet­ings on the scene.

While many jock­eys adopt the mantra of not con­tact­ing Size and al­low­ing him to seek them out, Van Niek­erk took a dif­fer­ent ap­proach with the mas­ter trainer.

Not shy from the big stage, Van Niek­erk said he had been con­tact­ing the 10-time cham­pion trainer look­ing for rides be­fore he fi­nally obliged, giv­ing him the chance on former Aus­tralian gal­loper Mr So And So, who was hav­ing his first Hong Kong start in the Class Two Wash­ing­ton D.C Hand­i­cap.

The de­par­ture of Joao Mor­eira this sea­son has left a gap­ing hole in the Hong Kong jock­eys’ room and Van Niek­erk hopes he can play some part in fill­ing it.

Size and Mor­eira paired up 193 times in 2017-18 for 52 wins at a deadly strike rate of 27 per cent, com­pared to their over­all win­ning per­cent­ages of 17 and 20 per cent re­spec­tively.

Helped by his abil­ity to ride at the bot­tom weight of 114 pounds, Van Niek­erk said he was hop­ing to put in a strong per­for­mance to get a foot in the door.

“It is my first ride for Mr Size,” he said.

“I want to do as well as pos­si­ble to, hope­fully, get more rides in the fu­ture.”

Size had pre­vi­ously in­di­cated he would be book­ing “in form” jock­eys’ to fill the void left by Mor­eira.

“Typ­i­cally in Hong Kong, who­ever’s win­ning will get the of­fers,” he said.

Fully aware of how fickle the rac­ing en­vi­ron­ment can be in Hong Kong, Van Niek­erk said he was very happy to be able to ride gen­uine win­ning chances so early in his stint.

“I am pleased, I am get­ting nice chances, ob­vi­ously if you get the chance, you can make it hap­pen,” he said. “For me so far, I have had a great start, I just have to build on that and do my best to con­tinue.”

Size has yet to get off the mark this sea­son and Van Niek­erk was not able to obliged, Mr So And So fin­ish­ing mid-field yes­ter­day.

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