More jockey drama in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Jockey Club has charged Harry Bentley, but whatever the outcome of that, a week and a half from now the focus will have moved on to which jockeys made the IJC shortlist.

Jockey Harry Bentley has been stood down by Hong Kong stewards. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

David Morgan

Chief Journalist


The curious case of Harry Bentley is playing out in Hong Kong at present as the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) navigates its latest jockey predicament, which comes just 10 days or so before it announces the star-studded line-up for one of its biggest draws, the annual International Jockeys Championship (IJC) at Happy Valley.

Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori will doubtless be at the top of the HKJC’s wish list for the glamour event, but the club would do well to entice an Asian expatriate who has been lighting up his adopted corner of North America for a few years now, Kazushi Kimura.

Bentley, however, might not be around to enjoy the Valley’s big night: he is clearly in a spot, but his legal representation must be putting up something of a case given the length of time the process is taking. And, on that, it must be noted that some of the handling by chief stipendiary steward Marc van Gestel and his team has been peculiar.


The news broke when a notice from the chief stipe was published on November 3, revealing that Bentley had been stood down for a ‘potential disciplinary matter’; then followed a lengthy hearing on Monday, November 6, adjourned until the next day; that second hearing was also adjourned, and then on November 9 a further notice was put out stating the stewards had issued Bentley with a charge and the hearing of the charge had been deferred until November 13, to enable the jockey’s legal representation to be present.

But what is the charge, and why the secrecy? That is the question everyone is asking, and it is unsatisfactory that it has still not been made public. The rumour mill is turning at quite a rate and that never makes for a good look, in fact it is damaging to the sport’s image and to the club’s credibility; time will tell soon enough if this is one for the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) or not.

All intriguing stuff, and all flying in the face of transparency, as was the case when the HKJC’s reputation took a knock in its handling of Neil Callan a couple of years back. In that particular case the Irishman was called in to ‘show cause’ after he was forthright and unbending in defending his position during a stewards’ inquiry, went into battle with the club to overturn a subsequent three-month suspension, and won a reduction and a widely-perceived victory.

Should Bentley be found guilty of breaking the rules of racing to such an extent that he receives a lengthy suspension, it would be the second high-profile jockey case to go that way in the span of six months. In May, Silvestre de Sousa and Vagner Borges were disqualified for 12 and 13 months, respectively, with the stewards ruling that the former had ‘facilitated’ the latter in placing a bet.

Silvestre De Sousa. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

De Sousa is a two-time past IJC champion, having lifted the silver trophy at Happy Valley in December 2018 and shared it with Tom Marquand last year. But this time he will be absent when 12 jockeys, some of the world’s best among them, will vie for the silverware and the hefty pay cheque.

The IJC has been attracting big name riders ever since its inception in 1998 – Olivier Peslier saw off stellar rivals including Cash Asmussen, Pat Eddery, Kieren Fallon, Mick Kinane, Gerald Mosse and Norihiro Yokoyama – but it has also been a platform to showcase emerging talent, from within Hong Kong and from overseas. In the past decade, jockeys like James McDonald and Irad Ortiz were given the nod at an early juncture in their career, and in recent times the competition has gained publicity through the deserved inclusion of Hollie Doyle and Jamie Kah.

Asian Racing Report has previously questioned why there isn’t any female representation on the Hong Kong jockey roster generally, and while Doyle and Kah may well make the IJC line-up again, what about Rachel King? And how about any one of those three being signed on a months-long HKJC licence rather than just a fly-in-fly-out gig?

But the rider that has really pushed his case in the past 12 months for an IJC call-up is Kimura. The Japanese rider dropped out of the JRA riding school despite being that intake’s standout in terms of raw ability, but he has since made his mark in North America, riding out of Woodbine, Canada since 2018 when he began his apprenticeship at age 18.

Mandarin Hero and Kazushi Kimura approach the Kentucky Derby starting gates. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Kimura won two Sovereign Awards as Canada’s leading apprentice and an Eclipse Award as North America’s top apprentice; he has ridden more than 100 winners a year in all bar one of his six seasons so far, and is now the dominant force at Woodbine, heading for his third consecutive riding title there with 128 wins on the board.

He spent last winter riding at Santa Anita, alongside superstars Frankie Dettori, Mike Smith and Johnny Velazquez. He got to within a nostril of winning the G1 Santa Anita Derby on the Japanese NAR galloper Mandarin Hero and gained Kentucky Derby experience on the same horse in May.

The Hokkaido native is clearly a high-level talent. Still in his early twenties, he has a trio of G1 wins on the board, including the Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita in March; last month he won his fourth Ontario Derby in a row; and two weekends ago he rode a Saturday five-timer sandwiched between a Friday double and a Sunday treble.

Kimura would be an ideal fit for the IJC and a return to Asia for the big night in December seems an obvious selection for the HKJC licensing committee to make.

But ahead of the anticipated IJC line-up announcement, the Bentley case could yet prove to be another stark reminder that behind the big money and the glitz are readily-at-hand pitfalls that can ensnare or entice Hong Kong’s jockeys, whether foolishly, unwittingly, or intentionally: just ask De Sousa, Borges, Nash Rawiller, Howard Cheng, or Chris Munce among others. 




    Subscribe now & get exclusive weekly content from Asian Racing Report direct to your inbox

      Expert ratings, tips & analysis for Hong Kong racing