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Lyle Hewitson, centre. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/YOLANDA SAAYMAN
Lyle Hewitson, centre. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/YOLANDA SAAYMAN

In tennis terms it is like a junior champion taking on Novak Djokovic in the first round of Wimbledon.

In the sport of horse racing in Hong Kong on December 8, SA champion jockey Lyle Hewitson will take on the best riders in the world such as Ryan Moore, Joao Moreira and Mickael Barzalona in the HK$1m Longines Challenge.

It is certainly a question of being thrown in at the deep end, but Hewitson, who rode 264 winners last season, finishing 92 clear of Warren Kennedy, is up for the challenge.

Hewitson, who had six mounts at Sha-Tin on Sunday, told the South China Morning Post: “It’s fantastic to be part of such a prestigious event and I look forward to every aspect of it.”

The 24-year-old will also be well aware that the meeting — at Happy Valley racecourse — provides him with an opportunity of the biggest payday of his short career. The winning jockey in the Challenge — won by Gavin Lerena in 2016 — pockets HK$50,000 (about R1m). Not bad for a night’s work.

Hewitson explained that a chain of events resulted in him ending up in Hong Kong. “I had things set in motion for Japan and unfortunately things were out of our hands with Covid-19 and it was just taking too long.

“So I decided to call it quits and get going with Hong Kong. I wanted some clarity because I’d been waiting so long and I wanted to give the Jockey Club licensing committee secretary Terry Bailey an answer so I went to the embassy myself.

“They were pretty forthright in saying that for a South African they didn’t think the borders were going to open before the end of November. For me that was a sign to head over to Hong Kong and it all works out how it is meant to.

“It’s not that I came to Hong Kong because Japan didn’t work, Hong Kong was always first and foremost but we had to set a timeline that as long as I was in Japan by a certain time, that I could be in Hong Kong by December.”

The ruling SA champion will be well aware that his first foray to the former British colony was tantamount to a Wimbledon finalist winning a game in the final round. He rode just three winners from 251 mounts.

Hewitson, who arrived in Hong Kong on November 4 and came out of quarantine on November 25, will have to be at the top of his game on December 8. Other notable jockeys competing in the Challenge are Australians James McDonald and Damian Lane, Yuga Kawada from Japan as well as Hollie Doyle and Tom Marquand representing the UK.

Meanwhile, despite every effort being made to save Saturday’s Summer Cup meeting at Turffontein, two storms rendered the track not safe for racing. A decision was made to move the 10-race programme to November 30.

Often when racing is postponed on a Saturday, the meeting is moved to the Sunday. But Phumelela racing executive Patrick Davis told the Sporting Post that the inspection panel — including jockeys — decided this was not possible.

“There was so much water on the track — which had already recorded 61mm in the preceding few days — that the unanimous view was that the track was unlikely to have been raceable on Sunday,” said Davis.

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