Industry Press


South African Champion Jockey Lyle Hewitson said his recent invitation to ride in Hong Kong was the realisation of a long held dream and he is fully aware of the necessity to make an immediate impact.

The 21-year-old said, “I’m very excited. It was always a dream, but the fact that it has all come so soon, it’s pretty surreal. I don’t think it has sunk in, but I am looking forward to making the most of it and hopefully a success of it. I don’t just want to go for the experience. I want to go for the success.”

Hewitson has landed a six month contract. He will fly over in early August to “get into the swing of things” before the new Hong Kong season begins in September. His contract expires on February 28 next year.

He explained how the system works in Hong Kong, “I am licensed by the Jockey Club and am not retained by any stable, so will free lance. The nominations come out, you phone for rides, the usual sort of thing.”

Hewitson is not a champion just for his riding skills and has been putting in an immense amount of homework before his sojourn.

He said the advice of everybody he had spoken to with experience of Hong Kong racing, including those who had only been on a brief visit, had been “invaluable.”

He added, “They have all given me a few pointers and I will use all of it wisely.”

He has been given plenty of feedback by recent license holders Aldo Domeyer and Callan Murray and revealed, “The trackwork there is different. You only work the horses that you are riding in races, so it’s quite hard to get in by working hard. You have to rather have a bit of luck and a bit of success. So that is a bit different. I am used to going and grinding in the mornings. But I have been speaking to the older guys about how to market yourself and how to get rides on a consistent basis. So there are a lot of little things. The small questions are the most important and those are the ones I have been asking.”

Jockey great Basil Marcus once revealed he had believed himself to be about an eight out of ten for riding sharpness before arriving in Hong Kong and soon re-evaluated himself to be about a three.

Hewitson reflected, “Look, it is like that, especially when you’ve got people like Zac Purton and Joao Moreira who have already established themselves and, on top of it, have great PR work. It is always hard so you’ve just got to keep working hard and just be that edge better. Be willing to learn … I think that is important.”

Basil Marcus did adapt quickly and became a seven-times Hong Kong Champion Jockey. He was one of many South African Jockey Academy graduates, including legendary 13-time Hong Kong Champion jockey Douglas Whyte, champions Bartie Leisher and Robbie Fradd, as well as the like of Felix Coetzee, Antony Delpech and Karis Teetan, who have paved the way for Hewitson and his contemporaries.

Hewitson has also made enquiries about Chinese culture, which is significantly different to the Western society he is used to.

He said, “You have to respect their culture, it is a big thing, if you show people respect they will have respect for you as well.”

Foreign professionals and workers in China have spoken of how visitors might initially be adjudged partly on how lucky they appear to be.

Hewitson is fully aware of this reality and said, “It is a big thing over there. Aldo, for example, had two winners in his first meeting and the ball has been rolling for him since then. Unfortunately, on the other hand, when Callan went back for a second stint he broke his nose in his first meeting back. Then you are considered to be on the slightly unlucky side and things just don’t work for you. You could be a great rider, as Callan is, but when you’re not getting the opportunities it’s tough. I think it is about riding the wave and if you hit that luck, use it.”

Confidence and luck go hand in hand in sport and Hewitson is not short of the former, as his record-breaking career thus far attests to.

He concluded, “Hopefully, I can get a good book of rides in the first week and bring a couple home and at least make the others improve and keep it going from there.”

He will be hoping to receive some initial support from the ex-patriot South African trainers.

Hewitson is currently locked in a titanic struggle to retain his national jockeys championship. After the past weekend both he and joint-leader Muzi Yeni were on 178 winners apiece. Anton Marcus, who has been taking rides in ordinary Gauteng meetings recently for Mike de Kock, was breathing down their necks on 174. Gavin Lerena was next best on 155 and Greg Cheyne was in fifth place on 142.

Hewitson said, “It’s very tight but it’s just about going and doing the thing I know best. I think it’s great for the public.”

Asked on whether the Championship is on his mind every meeting, he replied, “Yes … it’s not something that plays on my mind but I know how important every winner is. It gets tough, sometimes you think about having a day off, but then you think I can have a winner, so it’s worth going, each one counts. It is not something I put pressure on myself over, but definitely it is there, you know you need every winner.”

Copy: David Thiselton, Gold Circle