Bentley looks forward as he strives for Hong Kong momentum

English jockey Harry Bentley has endured winless stretches and tantalising winning flurries during two years in Hong Kong, but his focus remains the future.

Harry Bentley (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

David Morgan

Chief Journalist


It is Thursday afternoon in Hong Kong and Harry Bentley is looking forward to five rides at Sunday’s Sha Tin fixture. His keenness is heightened after enduring a two-meeting suspension that he hopes will not have halted the little roll of momentum he picked up at April’s onset.

With race meetings held only twice a week in Hong Kong, missing two means the Englishman will have gone 11 days between race rides. That is a long time on a circuit where last week’s win is but a rapidly fading memory of diminishing meaning.

His season so far has been one of small flurries of success between long spells without. It started with an opening day win; he had to wait a month for a follow-up, but it came with an eye-catching treble; one win in 17 meetings preceded five wins from as many fixtures from Christmas Eve (a double on that festive night) into early January; another pocket of wins, late February into March, and then two wins from four meetings in early April before the stewards stepped in.

“This place is like a juggernaut, it just keeps on going,” Bentley tells Asian Racing Report. “There is racing two days a week for 10 months of the year and you just have to keep plugging on. If you’re looking backwards, you get left behind.”

To that end, Bentley, a youthful 30, articulate of speech and mature in his reasoning, has developed a mindset of positivity that he believes is vital if he is to succeed in turning a small foothold into a long-term foundation in the city.



Harry Bentley aboard Bright Kid at Sha Tin. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

He is fully-engaged with the challenge, having arrived in Hong Kong two years ago this month and posted a solid five wins from 134 rides up to that season’s end; he then eked out a respectable 25 wins during his first full season in 2021-22, and this campaign he has 15 wins on the board.

“I was fairly happy with my first full season,” he says. “Numerically, you look at it on a first take and you think, ‘Oh, 25 winners is not that much really,’ but then you really have to recalibrate when you look at things like that, because getting winners here is so difficult and trying to get a foothold isn’t easy.”

Many a jockey, after arriving in the city on a short contract for the first-time, could attest to that. For every Karis Teetan, landing cold, starting with a hot streak, and developing into a well-established top five jockey, there have been scores of talented riders that either failed to make any impact and left within months – sometimes weeks – or gained an initial foothold only to find it crumbling away over time to become a sheer, slippery, descent towards the airport departure hall. 

Bentley is determined to not only keep ‘digging in’, but also to establish enough of a platform to be able to climb the premiership standings from his current position, 14th of the 24 riders licensed on the ‘full-time’ roster, and ensure his stay is long-term. It is not an easy task and he knows it: nine of the 10 jockeys below him have managed only seven wins or less this term, including the expatriates Ruan Maia, Luke Currie and Vagner Borges; Bentley does not want to be in their position a year from now and is eager to keep at it to forge the connections with owners and trainers that would bring the winners he needs.

“I really wanted to build on what I achieved last season this season and I’m behind schedule, annoyingly,” he admits. “But I still have a couple of months left so there’s still time to have a bit of a flurry towards the end of this season, so I’m sticking my head down and trying my best to change things.”

Harry Bentley wins the 2021 Class 1 Sha Tin Trophy on Preciousship. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

If he is to succeed, he will also help change perceptions around British and Irish jockeys in Hong Kong. Putting aside the fly-in-fly-out triumphs of Ryan Moore – a unique case given his status as one of the sport’s greats – British and Irish jockeys have struggled in recent times to establish themselves. In the past dozen years, only Neil Callan was able to settle for any length of time in the city on a full-time basis.

Englishman Philip Robinson’s back-to-back champion jockey titles between 1988 and 1990 are now a long time past. The perception is that perhaps most jockeys from Britain and Ireland are not suited to the jurisdiction.

Proven Group 1 riders, Andrea Atzeni, Colm O’Donoghue and Tom Queally, all attempted initial short-term contracts in the past decade and were unable to come to grips either fully or in part with the unique difficulties Hong Kong presents. Britain’s three-time champion Silvestre de Sousa is succeeding, but the reality is, he is seen through a different lens, as a Brazilian champion making his career overseas.

“I think it’s that people don’t really know the British jockeys, unless you’re Ryan Moore, William Buick or Frankie Dettori,” Bentley says, noting the stronger Australian focus and familiarity of trainers and owners with Australian jockeys. “And you could argue that not many British jockeys have really tried in recent times, with the intent of coming and doing a long-term stint, rather than just a three-month winter stint.

“But racing here definitely takes some getting used to, it’s totally different to what I was used to previously. Even down to the trackwork, riding gallops to the clock is all completely new, and obviously just the environment here with jockeys and trainers living on-site, on the racecourse. Then there is having to book your own rides without an agent, it takes a bit of adapting to.”

Andrea Atzeni after a win at Happy Valley back in 2014. (Photo by Kenneth Chan)

Harry Bentley has enjoyed great success in Qatar. (Photo by Neville Hopwood/Getty Images)

The races also shape differently to Britain and the Middle East – where Bentley was a six-time champion in Qatar – as Hong Kong races demand a sharp break from the gate and rapid thought and action to secure a good position.

“It’s a unique place to ride,” he says. “When I first got here and people mentioned different rail positions make a big difference, I took that with a pinch of salt at first, but it really is like riding on different tracks with these different rail positions; there are different biases to look for as well.

“You have to keep an eye on where horses are winning from during the card and try and adapt to changes. You really have to be on the ball, you’ve got to be on your A game because you can bet everyone else will be.”

Bentley was on the ball on April 2 with an astute piece of jockeyship that landed a win at odds of $41.0. It came aboard the Douglas Whyte-trained Wonder Years in a 2000m Class 4 handicap at Sha Tin.

The general fast-slow-fast tempo of Hong Kong races can be over-exaggerated at times and when a particularly slow middle happens it is not uncommon to see a jockey make a back-straight advance, but more so at Happy Valley.

Bentley was racing last, noted the slow pace and the fact that his horse lacked a turn of foot, so would have ‘no chance’ if the pace quickened sharply on the home turn. He moved smoothly from last to first along the back, established a rhythmic momentum and kept his mount running for the win.

“I would never have done that before,” he says. “You don’t see it often at Sha Tin, you see it done down the back straight when the pace collapses and it occasionally works. When I first got here, I saw people do it at Happy Valley and I thought, you can’t do that surely, but you can, it works. But not all the time, it has to be the right setting.”

That kind of momentum he enjoyed on Wonder Years is what he is hoping for in his Hong Kong career looking ahead. He has made connections, notably with former champion jockey-turned trainer Whyte, but at this point he is nobody’s go-to and lacks that all-important ‘good horse’.

“There are times when you just want to beat your head against a wall because you feel like you might be getting somewhere and then all of a sudden someone takes you off a horse,” he admits, pointing out that he is no different to most other riders in experiencing this. “I’d be lying if I said there aren’t occasions when these things get to me, but you just have to remain positive and look ahead: What’s next? What can you build to try and find another nice ride?

“I realised pretty fast here that if you’re looking behind and getting down about things here then it’s just so counterproductive. It’s a great place to be and I want to be here for the long term.”

The previous evening, he had watched on as his fellow jockeys competed around Happy Valley’s tight turns. There was no night off, suspension or not, Bentley knows that if he is to succeed, he must be unwaveringly focused in looking ahead: he studied the races closely, identifying horses he thinks showed something and which he might be able to get on next time.

Sunday’s five rides on the 10-race card feature four maidens with 29 starts between them, as well as Beauty Champ that he won on three starts ago, and he will go in expecting the best.

Harry Bentley celebrates victory on Beauty Champ. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit/Getty Images)

“It’s positives and negatives,” he says. “And it’s definitely been a steep learning curve here, but I feel like I’ve taken everything that’s come my way; I’m a more aggressive rider than I used to be.

“Momentum is the key,” he adds. “You have to do your utmost to capitalise on any opportunities that come your way and if they win, the ball is rolling all of a sudden.”




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