Horse Racing
Hong Kong horse racing’s vocational training and development showcased at 37th Asian Racing Conference

16/05/2018 11:44

The Hong Kong Jockey Club’s recruitment and education of stable staff, and its development of young riding talent, was front and centre as part of a ‘Vocational Training Masterclass’ during the fourth plenary session at the Asian Racing Conference (ARC) in Seoul, South Korea yesterday, Tuesday, 15 May, 2018.

Ms. Amy Chan, Executive Manager of the Club’s Racing Development Board and Headmistress of the Apprentice Jockeys’ School, delivered a presentation titled ‘Beyond boundary: Building organisational capabilities to accelerate performance and sustain competitive advantage.’

“We are very committed to nurturing and developing young people to become the best that they can be, both for the racing industry and the Hong Kong community at large,” she said.

“The most important thing is that every youngster has a dream and those dreams have different layers: vocational education can be a key to helping them find something they enjoy and can connect with, and a connection with horses is a great way for youngsters to gain and develop life skills as well as horse skills.”

Ms. Chan related the history and evolution of the HKJC vocational training programme, dating from the establishment of the Apprentice Jockeys’ School in 1972, through the 2005 formation of the Racing Development Board and up to the present, and looked at what lies ahead with the opening later this year of the Conghua Training Centre in the Chinese Mainland.

“With the creation of the Racing Development Board, the Club committed to developing a new generation of talent for the entire industry,” she said. “This included nurturing highly-skilled local jockeys who could compete equally with overseas jockeys, providing competent and dedicated track work riders and training other dedicated members of the racing work force, like stable assistants. We put all of that training under one roof and developed accredited certified qualifications.

“We introduced the dual education system in the Apprentice Jockeys’ School, and that means integrating school-based learning with work-based practice. The idea is to impart not just knowledge about riding; a good education connects our trainees to the real world by supporting personal growth and preparing them for job roles within the Hong Kong Jockey Club. We feel that all-round education is important.”

That education features riding, stable management, physical training, financial management, sports science, sports medicine, English, nutritional science and music appreciation.

“A good education programme takes a long time to develop,” Ms. Chan continued as she highlighted the multiple alternative pathways open to a racing trainee should they not progress towards becoming professional jockeys.

For the select few who do progress to become apprentice jockeys – many of whom had not even touched a horse before joining the school at age 15 – the pathway features an overseas training programme, which places the riders with trainers in other jurisdictions in order to better prepare them for the pressured environment of Hong Kong racing. It was stressed that the importance of ongoing coaching for apprentices is key to their ongoing development – in the case of Hong Kong’s riders, under the guidance of former top jockey Felix Coetzee.

Ms. Chan also highlighted the successful recruitment and commitment to the training of Chinese Mainland staff, employed to work at the soon-to-open Conghua Training Centre. That recruitment and training, she noted, is occurring within a dual site model wherein Conghua is an extension of the Hong Kong operating model.

Also among the session’s presenters was Professor Patrick Yung of the Hong Kong Centre for Sports Medicine and Sports Science and the British Racing School’s Mr. Grant Harris.

Professor Yung looked at the epidemiology of jockey injuries and talked of the need for in-depth studies into their causes and effects, and how poor nutrition and lack of hydration might impact jockeys’ long term physical and mental health.

He also demonstrated that jockeys are elite athletes.

Mr. Harris noted that in Britain the demographics are shifting markedly with far more girls than boys entering that country’s two racing schools. He also said that recruitment overall is becoming increasingly difficult.

“Horseracing needs to be an attractive option – it’s not a job it’s a vocation. We need to recruit, train and retain,” he said, stating too that, “Without a doubt, people are the industry’s biggest asset.”

Earlier in the day, Dr. Oonagh Chan, a Senior Consultant to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, shared some of the expertise she has gained from 42 years in the broadcast industry. Her presentation in the third plenary session focused on the application of new technologies in sports broadcast coverage, such as Virtual Reality and the move from 4K to 8K.