OUR MEMORIES
Amateur Jockeys


Ridden For Hire ; Ridden For Aspire

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Racing in Hongkong and China had amateur riders more than a century before and after the formation of HKJC.

Though similar jargons were used, there could be differentiation between Amateur Riders and Gentleman Riders or Gentleman Jockeys.

Social status and financial background might impose a slight stratification in the racing community.

 

1845, since the first race meeting in Hongkong, the riders of horses and ponies had all been amateurs in most of the time.

At no time had professional Jockeys been permitted to ride in those eras.

Such was the origin to this circumstance and to the thoroughly sporting spirit in which racing had been conducted.

 

 

BACKGROUND

 

It was no doubt due to the fact that profit making integrity was nearly never challeged in the history of Hongkong racing over a period of more than 100 years.

Just a single incident had a charge for dishonest riding been made against a rider at race meetings.

According to Governor Henry May in 《Notes on Pony and Horse Racing in Hong Kong 1845-1887》, there came a challenge.

1883-02-24 Off Day, Ambassador Cup, might be the first alleged disgraceful race.

This one exception occurred in connection with a race when a certain rider was reported to the Stewards for pulling his pony.

The Stewards “ accepted Mr.————- ’s explanation of the reasons which induced him to ride SCOTCH REEL in a very unusual manner” .

Thus this scandal ended.

 

As long as the Hongkong Turf retains the high tone which at present pervades it, there is little fear of a recurrence of this one blot in its annals.

There had been no doubt that this desirable tone would be maintained.

As long as owners of race ponies and the Stewards of HKJC continued to be animating by the keen desire they had hitherto.

Their ideal was exhibited to provide racing as a sport to be indulged in by men, with honor and integrity.

Their members were sportsmen by nature and education, for only the sake of sport and not as a mere medium of gambling.

Gentlemen riders themselves had contributed largely to this satisfactory record.

They had been in the past, and to those days imbued by the desire to ride their races with the sole object of doing justice.

Their accountabilities were to their mounts, their owners and themselves.

Their interests had to be absolutely without unfair prejudice to other competitors in the race.

 

 

HIGHLIGHTS

 

According to page 114 of《China Races》written by Austin Coates, there were Stories behind the practice:

 

1879

“BLACK SATIN, by this time, was owned by Paul Chater of Hongkong.

His 26-win rider was M.C. Nickels, a Shanghai commercial employee whom Chater engaged as his jockey and trainer.

Descended from Armenian merchant prince of India, Paul Chater was a man of discreet, princely munificence.

Aged 33 at this time, he was already a millionaire.

It is to be feared that it was he who started the practice of giving ‘presents’ to jockeys at the end of a meeting, though it cannot be proved, such matters being extremely private.”

Early in the 20th century, however, at a time when a European employee of the type from which jockeys came earned $100 a month.

Chater’s ‘present’ to his jockey at the end of a meeting was liable to be $10,000, and if the jockey had to race for him in Hongkong he received in addition a first-class sea passage both ways, his hotel and other expenses in Hongkong, and an allowance.

To avoid such costly methods of retaining the services of a good jockey, a number of leading firms in Shanghai took to engaging young men to do nothing demanding in the office, but race and train their ponies for them, upholding the honour of the house flag and its racing colours.”

 

‘Sham’ means something false or empty that is purported to be genuine.

From a blend of sham + amateur, shamateur means a sportsperson who is officially an amateur but accepts payment undertable.

Or a sports player who makes money from sporting activities though classified as amateur.

1930s, the word ‘shamateur’ was first used in Shanghai.

It applied to only a few riders, and since a number of them were men with a good financial background, it did not matter much.

In post-war Hongkong there were many more shamateur jockeys.

Most of them, despite having offices and holding down so-called jobs, were in fact professionals, earning their living entirely from racing.

 

Hugh (Buffy) was a neat little chap with a perfect jockey figure.

Of him it is firmly stated that he never did a day’s work in his life.

In fact, for a good rider, it had become steadily more difficult to be a real amateur.

 

1924-11-10, Godfrey Cornewall Chester Master, age of 64, passed away at Banchory in Scotland.

1925-01-05, Mr Master was praised as one of the most accomplished amateur riders in the Far East by 《The Straits Times》.

 

1930, Billy Hill, accumulated the greatest number of wins of any rider in China.

But he could not be regarded as an real amateur.

He raced at Happy Valley during Leo Frost’s first two years there, winning the Champions on DIANA BAY.

 

By the time, Frost was posted to the head office of Jardine’s in Hong Kong.

1930-11-29, a yellowish picture,at Happy Valley, shows the group of Jardines’ amateur riders who participated in The “Ewo” Handicap race.

The “Ewo” Handicap, named after the Company’s Chinese name, was exclusively eligible to staff of Jardines at that time.

In 1930, there were nine competitors; and the winner came to Ho Kom Tong’s KOM TONG HALL ridden by Leo Frost (sitting on the far right).

 

Mike Boycott was one of the icon of amateur jockeys among China and Hongkong.

1939, The Tientsin Race Club had once again broken its rules to allow Michael Boycott to race from the age of 16.

He rapidly became a popular jockey, seldom having less than three wins a day, and riding for all the best owners.

1945, Michael Boycott moved from the North to Hong Kong after the Japanese surrender.

He was quickly to make his impression in the Happy Valley amateur racing.

1968, he became Secretary to HKJC after a successful career on horseback.

He was ordered to be responsible for all stables administration, including security.

Besides the above, his additional duty was ‘to undertake to raise training standards to those comparable with training establishments elsewhere.’

For one who had always regarded himself as an amateur rider, this must surely be one of the finest compliments ever paid.

The truth is that the good riders in the China races knew, and had to know, more of horses and horsemanship than riders elsewhere.

 

 

SUMMARY

 

The scale of China racing was extraordinary of which Hongkong was no different.

Amateur jockeys all over racecourses had similar experiences.

To quote Baron von Delwig on the subject of Tientsin:

There were usually about 25 race days in the spring, and just as many in the autumn, usually ten races a day.

In theory an amateur rider in China had a chance to ride in 500 races a year, and in practice many only did ride in 250 races a year.

There were too many amateur riders and too easy to become as such.

 

Before professionalization, HKJC jockeys were all amateur and mostly personal friends or relatives.

As also in the fraternity were the clerk of the course, starters, judges and stewards.

Instead of a race, being a gathering of complete strangers, bookmakers, amateur riders and professional officials, it partaked more of the social nature as a huge picnic.

 

 

REFERENCE

 

1971, for all the suggestion put forward by Peter Williams that the races go professional.

HKJC’s first wording of it was that amateurs be continued to allow to race, that there be special races for them, if required.

But there was stricter control of riders — they actually used the word ‘shamateur’ — and also greater authority for trainers.

Weatherbys was to be asked to re-draft the rules.

Nowadays, the company still provides British horse racing with its central administration under contract to the British Horseracing Authority.

 

 

RELATED LINK

 

Jardines – 《RacingMemories.HK》

Jardine Stables – 《RacingMemories.HK》

Dents – 《RacingMemories.HK》

Hong Kong Horse Racing History in Brief – 《RacingMemories.HK》

 

 

Acknowledgment to Mr Peter Yuen and Mr Donald Tsai for relevant data.

 

 

 


 

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