Racing: Hong Kong lures Dettori: Richard Edmondson reports on moves by another top jockey to curtail his British career in favour of colonial riches

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THE EROSION in the esteem of British racing continues. Following the Maktoum family's decision to investigate racing away from these shores and Michael Kinane's rejection of the offer to partner Sheikh Mohammed's horses, comes the announcement that another jockey, Lanfranco Dettori, sees his immediate future in Hong Kong.

Dettori, stable jockey to Luca Cumani for the last three years, has severed ties with the Newmarket trainer as he looks forward to joining Kinane, Gerald Mosse and possibly Steve Cauthen in the colony this autumn.

'It was a very hard decision, but it's one I've taken and I just hope people don't think I'm crazy,' Dettori said yesterday. 'I think every jockey would like to ride for Sheikh Mohammed because of the number of horses and the quality of the horses, and when you see Michael Kinane refusing that, and him and Steve Cauthen going to Hong Kong it makes you think.

'Racing is going very strongly there and I have to go where the wind is blowing strongest and right now Hong Kong seems to be the place.'

Britain, it seems, is not the place to be. Financial security is not the least of Dettori's motives for moving on, but the jockey also believes he is leaving a deteriorating regime. 'I'm very sad to be leaving, but I have to go where things are getting bigger and right now in England everything seems to be getting worse,' he said.

'There was the whip thing this week and the Government is not doing its best for us right now. It may take a few years before things start flowing like they used to.'

This transfer is not without its problems, however. Dettori has reached agreement to partner the horses trained by Gary Ng, and is expected to sign a contract for two years, but he will have to wait until the middle of April to find out if the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club will grant him a licence. 'It's a gamble but I can't keep waiting for chances like this to come,' he said.

'I want to go to Hong Kong because I think I'll have a good time. Some people have the wrong idea about the place. It's getting to be very big and people like Mosse and (Patrick) Biancone are not there for the fresh air.'

If the Dettori gamble comes off, he will join the ranks of freelance riders here before travelling to the colony in September. With the young Italian removed from calculations because of this late-season unavailability, Cumani will now be on the look-out for a stable jockey.

Ray Cochrane, who left Bedford House to ride for Guy Harwood three years ago, appears the most logical appointment, though Cumani was not in the mood for announcements yesterday. 'I am in discussion with my owners but will have nothing concrete to add on the subject until I have spoken to all of them,' he said.

Meanwhile, Dettori was back on Newmarket Heath riding work for David Loder and anticipating his first ride of the season on the all-weather at Lingfield tomorrow. 'I expect to be riding for Ron Boss, Julie Cecil, Lord Huntingdon, David and all those people who have kindly supported me in the past,' he said. 'Maybe some more doors will open because I'm freelance.'

The first significant booking for Dettori, who has been well used by outside stables since the days he was marching towards the champion apprentice title, has been made by Bill Elsey, who will leg the jockey up on his Linpac West for the Lincoln at Doncaster on 27 March.

But racedays are almost certain to be more mundane for Lanfranco Dettori this summer, and certainly nothing to compare with the most memorable afternoon of his life, when he won two Group One races within the space of an hour at Ascot's Festival Of British Racing in 1990 on Markofdistinction and Shamshir.

It seems, though, that he is prepared to accept a prosaic period in his career as long as it fits into a long-term gameplan.

'I'm not going away for life, I'm not going to die over there,' he said. 'I'm only 22 years old and I hope I've got 20 years of my career in front of me. When I come back I'll have to start all over again, but I'll be 24 and more experienced.'

(Photograph omitted)