Van Niekerk going big in Hong Kong
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.
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.