Matthew Chadwick and wife Man-kuen and daughter Jessica at The Ravenala Attitude Hotel on Thursday.
Matthew Chadwick and wife Man-kuen and daughter Jessica at The Ravenala Attitude Hotel on Thursday.

By Michael Lee

Matthew Chadwick will become the first Hong Kong-born jockey to ride in Mauritius, a milestone which is not lost on the former boom apprentice as he readies himself for the challenge this weekend.

The 27-year-old may not hit the Apple Daily or South China Morning Post headlines as often as he used to during the golden era he was widely regarded as the last whizz kid to emerge from the local riding ranks the former British colony since Tony Cruz.

But etching his name in the history books is nothing new to the Australian-trained Hong Kong Chinese-born adopted son of British teachers.

In 2012, the 2008/2009 champion apprentice jockey became the first Hong Kong jockey to win the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup (2000m) with California Memory in 2011 before doubling the deed with the grey wonder in 2012.

It would be a little presumptuous to suggest that being the first Hong Konger to take part in the annual Air Mauritius & Attitude International Jockeys’ Weekend at the Champ de Mars would rank in the same breath as California Memory’s deeds, but it is still a personal achievement Chadwick takes pride in as he soaks in the Mauritian hospitality at The Ravenala Attitude Hotel with wife Man-kuen and daughter Jessica a few days before his first Mauritian sortie.

Not only is it a thrill and honour to be the first jockey to hoist the Bauhinia flag high at the Champ de Mars on Saturday and Sunday, he said that win, draw or lose, his presence could only give Hong Kong a different type of recognition.

Hong Kong may be a tiny country, even smaller than Mauritius, but the stature of its racing and horseflesh has grown to world-class standards over the last two decades or so, as will be once again showcased at the upcoming Longines Hong Kong International Races next Sunday on December 10.

But arguably less talked about is the calibre of its locally-nurtured jockeys at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Beas River school. Such invitations to ride overseas and rub shoulders against the world’s best can only give a better insight on the pool of local talent who gives the Joao Moreira, Zac Purton and Douglas Whyte a run for their money every Wednesday (Happy Valley) and Sunday (Sha Tin).

“The image of the club can only improve when they get a chance to promote us overseas,” said Chadwick, who speaks English with an Australian twang courtesy of his formative years in New South Wales.

“I remember when I first went to UK in 2012 to join the Hills family, I put my hand up to join the Shergar Cup. I did it off my own bat, but it was such a great feeling to represent the Hong Kong Jockey Club, especially after I won one race and finished second three times and won the Silver Saddle.

“That was the first time a Hong Kong jockey did so well at a jockeys’ series and the idea has kicked on from here. It will help both our local riders and the Club to get the overseas exposure. If not, what else can we do to compete on the world stage?”

While Chadwick is arguably the most recognisable name among the locals, the Derek Leung, Keith Yeung and of course latest sensation apprentice jockey Matthew Poon, are the young bucks on the rise. Most were snapping at Chadwick’s heels not too long ago, with Leung and Poon having even forged ahead in the hierarchy, but their resume still pales in comparison.

It is therefore no surprise that even though his star has dimmed in recent years, mainly through his recurring knee issues, it was Chadwick who was selected to represent Hong Kong this year. If not for a dearth of jockeys, he would have actually already made his Champ de Mars baptism of fire one year earlier.

“When the Club told me the Mauritius Turf Club had invited me to ride at their jockeys’ series, I was ecstatic as I missed out last year. I picked up a suspension and tried to defer it but the Club was facing a shortage of jockeys and I couldn’t go,” said Chadwick who, other than Hong Kong, England and Australia, counts Singapore, Japan, Dubai and Macau as other places he has ridden in.

“It’s a great opportunity to go visit a new place, and it’s a great privilege to get chosen. It fills me with a sense of pride to be here.

“There was a time when I was young and did not really appreciate such opportunities, but I’ve matured over the years. Having a family has helped me stay more focused.”

Chadwick was not on hand at the draw ceremony at the hotel on Wednesday night, as he was booked to ride at the Happy Valley meeting that night, when he actually booted home one winner, which could be seen as a good omen, but the 300-odd race winner was not reading too much into that “lone spike”.

“I’ve ridden four winners in around 100 rides, but they were mainly 20-1 chances most of the time. It’s hard to do that, as it’s all relative,” said Chadwick who flies back to Hong Kong straight after the Sunday races.

“I didn’t have much luck either, drew bad barriers. In this game, you need to get the right horse at the right time, especially when you are up against so many good jockeys in Hong Kong, but I think I’m performing well enough.”

Speaking of the “right horse”, Chadwick knows precious little about his 10 rides this weekend, except for the one regarded as the pick of the crop, likely hot favourite and rising star Rob’s Jewel in the penultimate race on Saturday.

“I don’t know my rides, except I was told Rob’s Jewel was a strong frontrunner,” he said.

“I wanted to go and ride trackwork on Friday but it was too early as I only arrived late at night the day before. I will go and walk the track before the races on Saturday, and hopefully I can make a good fist of it.”