AFTER the brain drain, the rein drain. Jockeys are deserting Britain for the high life in Hong Kong with indecent haste, and Willie Ryan yesterday became the latest rider to announce that he will leave in August to pursue a colonial career.
Henry Cecil's No. 2 jockey, who will join Dean McKeown and Gary Carter as a new member of the expat community, gets his chance as a result of the Hong Kong Jockey Club's decision to refuse Lanfranco Dettori's application to ride. Dettori was hoping to join the local trainer Gary Ng, and Ryan will now take his place.
'It was a very difficult decision to take, not just to move the family to Hong Kong but also to leave Henry,' Ryan said yesterday. 'I have worked my way to the top of the ladder but now I am stepping off it. Gary Ng has 60 horses. He is a young, up-and-coming trainer who is very ambitious.'
Ryan rode over 100 winners for the first time last season, including 36 for Cecil, but he has often been overlooked when the yard needed a second rider in top races. This afternoon, Cecil's Derby second string, Commander In Chief, will be partnered by Michael Kinane.
The desire to ride in Hong Kong was a major factor in Kinane's decision to turn down the position of retained jockey to Sheikh Mohammed this season. The man who finally signed was Michael Roberts, whose first couple of months in the Sheikh's saddle have been less than all-conquering, but his Classic chance on Barathea in today's Derby will now be backed up by the ride on the Andre Fabre-trained Intrepidity, 5-1 second-favourite for the Oaks on Saturday.
Roberts is an unexpected replacement for Thierry Jarnet, Fabre's stable jockey. Riding plans for Sheikh Mohammed's other Oaks runners were also confirmed yesterday: Lester Piggott will ride Marillette, while Ray Cochrane gets the leg-up on Iviza. Darryll Holland, the young rider who will partner the likely favourite, Yawl, got a taste of the track yesterday when he rode Blues Traveller, Barry Hills's Derby outsider, in a morning gallop.
Cochrane should start today's Derby card with a winner, Geoff Lewis's Silver Wedge (2.00) in the Woodcote Stakes. Piggott rides the likely favourite, Swing Low, in the Diomed Stakes, the principal supporting race on the Derby card, but he may struggle to cope with the improving three-year-old Humam (2.45).
The handicaps which follow the Derby are often criticised as inappropriately poor, but they do at least give punters a fair shot at getting out of trouble. CAMDEN'S RANSOM (nap 5.10) has conditions in his favour, while Farfelu (next best 4.35) is ideally drawn and fairly weighted. Northern Bird (5.45) was fancied at York last time but got no sort of a run; today's smaller field should not pose the same problems.
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