Racing: Sheikh must wrest Kinane from Hong Kong: Paul Hayward on the barriers to be overcome if Sheikh Mohammed is to employ the services of Ireland's top rider

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SHEIKH MOHAMMED'S advisors confirmed last night that Ireland's leading rider, Michael Kinane, has been offered the job of retained jockey in place of Steve Cauthen and said that they hoped a deal can be finalised 'within a few days'.

'We started negotiations with Michael Kinane only after we couldn't resolve the situation with Steve, so it'll take a few days more to sort things out,' Anthony Stroud, the Sheikh's racing manager, said.

Stroud phoned Kinane in Hong Kong yesterday morning to discuss the details of the appointment, and in particular the Irishman's availability in the early part of the new Flat season. As things stand, Kinane is contracted to ride in the colony until mid-April, by which time Sheikh Mohammed's racing operation would be in full swing. 'We don't yet know whether the Hong Kong Jockey Club would be able to shorten the contract,' Stroud said.

While Kinane was confronting the logistical problems of taking the best riding job in Europe, Dermot Weld, his employer in Ireland, was squaring up to the prospect of losing his stable jockey and closest ally. 'He came to me eight years ago and has developed into a world-class rider,' Weld said. 'In the meantime he has won seven of the last eight Irish jockeys' championships and is a close and true friend.'

Stroud was equally fulsome in his praise, saying: 'He (Kinane) has proved he's a top-class jockey and can ride at 8st 4lb or 8st 5lb (Cauthen was about 3lb heavier, an important difference in the famished world of Flat jockeys). He's very talented. He's won an Arc (Carroll House), a Belmont Stakes (Go And Go), a King George (with the Sheikh's Belmez) and a Hong Kong Invitational Cup, so his record in big races is very good.'

One potential sticking point is Kinane's well-documented love of life in Ireland and his family's probable misgivings about moving to Britain. 'If he rode for us as first claim I think he'd have to live in England,' Stroud said. 'It's a seven-day week when you take into account riding on the Continent at weekends and so on.'

This would appear to discount suggestions yesterday that Thierry Jarnet will step up to become the Sheikh's principal jockey in France, where he has a strong team centred on Andre Fabre's stable at Chantilly.

Part of the delay in confirming Kinane's appointment is almost certainly to do with his domestic arrangements in Ireland. The problems inherent in transferring a family overseas - even given the attractiveness of Sheikh Mohammed's offer - have been acknowledged by Stroud, who said last night: 'It's obviously a big step for him, and he has to discuss it with his family and professional connections in Ireland.'

Nevertheless it would be a major surprise if Kinane rejected the most prestigious post in racing - and security for life - purely to avoid temporarily leaving Ireland.

His income if he were to assume Cauthen's robes of office would comfortably exceed pounds 1m a year and there is a widespread feeling that although the Sheikh has so far produced a disappointingly small number of champions, it is only a matter of time before the trickle becomes a torrent. Kinane is now perfectly placed to ride that wave.

The priority from Sheikh Mohammed's point of view is to have Kinane back from Hong Kong in time for the spring Classic trials, so the Kempton Easter meeting on 10 and 12 April has been selected as a suitable time for Kinane's inauguration ceremony.

No doubt some tearful pleading is being conducted for his release from Hong Kong.