Vincent Ho targets Hong Kong season-opener despite a fractured back

The Hong Kong rider will head to Switzerland to assist his rehabilitation from a crashing fall in Japan last month, an incident he hopes might bring improvements to JRA procedures.

Vincent Ho fractured his T5 vertebra in a fall at Niigata, Japan. (Photo by HKJC)

David Morgan

Chief Journalist


‘It could have been worse,’ jockeys say after they have walked back from a fall: it’s a throwaway line yet a deeply sobering euphemism for ‘I could have been killed.’ Mortality is a reality of life for all, but few people outside of a war zone will ever flirt as close to the edge more often than the men and women who ride thoroughbreds in races.

Vincent Ho is recovering from his recent dice with death. It is 17 days since he fractured his T5 vertebra, suffered whiplash and a pneumothorax on his lung (not the misinformation of broken ribs and otherwise clear scans that spread on social media in the immediate aftermath), in a crashing fall at Niigata racecourse, Japan.

He is flat on his back, mostly, but working with an almost confident optimism towards returning to full action at the Hong Kong season opener in 26 days’ time. That will be just six weeks after he opened his eyes and screamed in agony.

“It was ten-out-of-ten pain for me: I was screaming with pain,” he tells Asian Racing Report, remembering the excruciating moment he regained consciousness, almost ten minutes after he had hit the ground with sickening force.


It came after his mount Score was brought down in race six on 29 July after some wild and wayward riding by a couple of his peers around the home turn; he was sent crashing and left sprawled on his front, unmoving.

“I remember everything until I landed,” he says. “I remember the race; I remember the horse and every detail about the race. Everyone has been talking to me about it since I came back.

“I was very unfortunate to be in that position, wide on the track, and still have that trouble,” he adds diplomatically.

Ho says he is grateful for the assistance he received from the JRA, an organisation he describes as “One of the best in the world” when it comes to looking after jockeys. But he has concerns about the procedures that played out in his case.

Vincent Ho celebrating a JRA win in 2022. (Photo by Shuhei Okada)

“I’m very grateful that I didn’t have a more serious injury: I think I’d have been dead if I’d had more internal bleeding or a brain bleed,” he says.

Ho was taken from the dirt track to the jockeys’ emergency room by the on-course ambulance, but once there, he remained there for “roughly 25 minutes” while officials coordinated with a hospital to get him a bed. Once that was sorted, the hospital sent an ambulance to collect him. From the fall to reaching the hospital, by his reckoning, took about 50 minutes.

“I was surprised by that,” he says, “but so were other jockeys and people in Japan. It shouldn’t take that long, so hopefully one positive outcome might be that the JRA will look at it and make sure it doesn’t take that long again to get a jockey to hospital, because I want the best for their jockeys as well, so that some improvements can be made where needed.

“Apart from that everything from the JRA was great; they treated me very well, they got me to the best hospital they could, but I’m sure there are things they can improve and I’m sure they will look at those things.”

As Ho talks into the phone there can be heard in the background soft electronic clicks and whirs.

“I have quite a lot of machines at home to help me recover and I’m doing one of those now,” he says. “It’s like a leg compression machine but it’s not that simple: it costs quite a few pennies.” 

The machine helps blood flow and circulation, transferring oxygen to places that are hard to get to, sending nutrients to where they are needed, which is important in his temporarily immobile state. He adds that good nutrition and hydration are important to recovery, and sunshine helps as well.

Since he arrived back in Hong Kong by private jet on 4 August – an international SOS flight with a doctor and a nurse on board arranged by the Hong Kong Jockey Club – he has dedicated every day to his rehabilitation.

2022/23 Tony Cruz Award winner Vincent Ho. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

“In terms of pain, I don’t feel much now. That’s actually not altogether a good thing because I forget about it, so I have to keep reminding myself to move in the right way. I won’t know how much progress I’ve made until the next check-up,” he says.

“I’m doing lots of sessions for recovery: lots of treatment. Most of my time is lying flat, even when exercising, or travelling in a car, it’s lying flat. The first two weeks were crucial because I don’t want to compress (the spine) too much; if it compresses and shortens, I risk having the vertebra touching the nerve and that can cause problems later in life. Using weights to exercise will compress my spine, so I’m being careful about that.

“I’m trying to get into the hyperbaric oxygen chamber; I can sit on a (stationary) bike and cycle; I’ve been doing some cardio workout and also a bit of strengthening of the legs, a little bit in the arms and upper body. But I can’t put too much stress by standing or sitting for too long at the moment, so I usually do exercises lying flat with resistance bands or little weights.

“I don’t have time for things like Netflix,” he adds, “I’m concentrating on my recovery.”

So much so that next week he will depart Hong Kong on a long-haul flight to Europe where he has booked himself in for a week at Hopital de La Tour, a Swiss Olympic Medical Centre offering the very best treatments to elite athletes.

“It will be interesting to see how advanced they are,” he muses. “Even at Hong Kong Sports Institute they don’t have a facility like this, this is a full hospital for athlete rehab.

“Hopefully it will help, but not just physically, my mind as well. Some time away from Hong Kong and away from work will be good because mentally it is still pretty full-on at the moment. If the mind is good, I can heal faster.”

Vincent Ho travelled to Japan on the back of a career-best Hong Kong season. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

As desirable European getaways go, it is a long way second to his initial summer plan to ride at ‘Glorious’ Goodwood and the Shergar Cup, with a couple of days of relative downtime in Middleham in between. He expresses frustration at missing out on that.

“I wanted to get back on and ride straight away but of course I couldn’t,” he says. “I missed winners at Niigata on the Sunday and the first day at Goodwood as well, but it is what it is.”

Ho has reached the elite echelon of jockeys through focused self-betterment: educating himself, working non-stop, summers spent riding in foreign lands while most of Hong Kong racing’s participants take time out during the off-season to refresh fully.

He is taking a philosophical view of the incident and injury, and is, of course, seeking to learn from it.

“If God has asked me to take a break from racing, you have to respect it,” he says. “He allows me to keep breathing and I’m grateful enough for that. It might give me another opportunity to be better at something or learn something, or allow me to have more family time, because I’ve been so busy the last few seasons, so this allows me to do it now.

“You have to look for the positive side: as a person I never stop learning so I’m looking at the ways I rehab and learn about how to help the body heal faster, learn more about nutrition to make it better in the future; and Switzerland might help me gain some extra perspective or knowledge. You have to look at it, that it happened for a reason.”

Vincent Ho has formed a near unbeatable partnership with Golden Sixty. (Photo by HKJC)

Trainer Chris So and jockey Vincent Ho after Super Sunny Sing's Classic Cup victory. (Photo by HKJC)

When Ho first spoke to Asian Racing Report, two days after the fall, he said he was not interested in watching video of the incident. But speaking now, he stresses that it is important to talk about it.

“We have to face it, anyway, it’s not my first time having a bad fall,” he says. “At the top, all the athletes nowadays talk about mental health and we have sports psychologists and mental coaches that can help us get through all this stuff, so it’s good to talk about it and acknowledge it.

“I will have to direct whatever (negative) thoughts might come in my mind when I race and it might come up, but it’s just how resilient my mind can be to get over it or direct my energy in another way. I think it’s not a problem.”

Furthermore, aiding his recovery is the prospect of teaming again with Hong Kong’s outstanding champion Golden Sixty. Ho has ridden the exceptional gelding in every one of his 29 races across five seasons and he is confident that this injury won’t open up an opportunity for another jockey to take the reins in his absence.

“Come on,” he says, and an incredulous smile is conveyed through his voice. “Sixty won’t be running before November. Tell them I’ll be back for the first meeting.” 




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