As if having Zac Purton, Joao Moreira and Karis Teetan among a raft of talented jockeys wasn’t enough, the pool of Hong Kong Jockey Club riders has deepened with the additions of Blake Shinn and Lyle Hewitson ahead of the 2019/20 season opener at Sha Tin on Sunday, 1 September.
Hewitson is a precocious two-time champion jockey in South Africa; Shinn is a former Sydney champion riding into town off a hot streak in Australia. Both were unveiled at a media gathering on Tuesday and both stressed that their being there was the fulfillment of a long-held “dream”.
“I had these aspirations to ride in Hong Kong at a young age, so when the phone call came there was no hesitation in saying yes,” Shinn said, while Hewitson echoed that sentiment, affirming that “It’s any jockey’s dream, to come here.”
Hewitson, 21, has been turning heads beyond his homeland for a couple of years now. One year ago he became the first South African apprentice to claim the overall national title since Michael Roberts in 1973; his second title, achieved this summer, set a new record haul of 219 wins.
“I’m really blessed to be in this position,” he said. “It wasn’t necessarily a decision: I was in a position that I was doing really well for a great stable at home but this opportunity was something I couldn’t turn down.”
Shinn, 31 and a Melbourne Cup-winning rider, is looking forward to advancing his profile on the world scene. He sees Hong Kong as the ideal stage.
“Competing on that world stage is something I’ve always aspired to do,” he said. “I’ve followed the great jockeys like Frankie Dettori and Darren Beadman, they’re my idols, they’re the blokes that I want to try and be like.
“Hong Kong, for me, it’s the Mecca for racing around the world. Darren Beadman had great years here for John Moore, you have great horses coming here at the international meetings; I remember things like Falbrav and Dettori here, those things stick in my memory. I just hope one day I get that chance to be that jockey winning the big races, so now I’m here I’m very excited.”
Shinn and Hewitson are eager to get going on Sunday with the former booked for eight rides and the latter for five, so far.
“I’m really looking forward to Sunday,” Hewitson said. “To have five rides on such a competitive card, I’m pretty proud of that. I’m appreciative of every single one of the rides and I think they’re competitive in their respective fields. If I can hit the board running pretty early that would be a great start. I’m really looking forward to it and I’m going to make the most of it.
“It’s a challenge that excites me,” he continued. “Back home in South Africa we’ve got world class riders and the fact that I could compete at the top level with them stands me in good stead coming here.”
Hewitson is getting his first taste of Hong Kong but Shinn already has a little experience under his belt. The Australian even put in a visit on his own time a couple of years ago, riding a bit of track work for the John Moore stable.
“I think I got suspended at that time and it was a chance to come here and learn,” he said. “I like Hong Kong and when I got the chance to come and ride a bit of work here I took it, thinking maybe one day I might get here. Now that I’m here, having had that experience, I suppose it might help.”
Shinn and Hewitson will join a 23-strong line-up that also includes the likes of Vincent Ho, Chad Schofield, Umberto Rispoli, Neil Callan, Grant van Niekerk, Regan Bayliss, Derek Leung, Matthew Chadwick and Alberto Sanna.
The circuit is famously competitive, with no quarter given in the jostle to get aboard the best horses.
“I won’t be putting a numerical goal ahead of me,” Hewitson said. “The main thing is to gain the trust of owners and trainers, build those relationships, and do well enough to extend my contract then build a long-term contract here in Hong Kong.”
Shinn, too, sees those relationships as vital, along with a dedication to do his best. And a quick start wouldn’t do any harm either.
“I want to try and hit the ground running as best I can, work hard, and try to go hard early – win races,” he said. “If I can do that I can set myself up for a good six months and hopefully get extended. I want to base myself here long-term. I’m determined to do well, determined to ride winners, and be up there as one of the leading riders in Hong Kong, so I’m going to try to make that happen.”
- Hong Kong Jockey Club