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Bowman seeks second IJC title after last-minute inclusion: ‘I feel for Jye’

Hugh Bowman is hoping to make the most of his last-minute inclusion in Wednesday night’s Longines International Jockeys’ Championship (IJC) after being announced as Jye McNeil’s replacement on Sunday night.

McNeil is in isolation after testing positive to Covid-19 last week, with Bowman given the chance to chase a second IJC victory after winning the competition in 2016.

“I’m grateful to get the opportunity, but I feel for Jye under the circumstances. It’s not ideal for him, but it’s out of his hands,” Bowman said.

“It’s always a fun night. I’ve won it on one occasion, and it’s really good racing. It’s a great spectacle, and I’m sure this year will be no different.”

Bowman partners Forte and Setanta for David Hayes, Caspar Fownes-trained Royal Pride and Pierre Ng Pang-chi’s Happy Sharing across the four IJC legs and is satisfied with the mounts he has at his disposal.

“I’m not that familiar with them yet, but what does catch my eye is the draws. Three of the four are drawn particularly well and the horses, at a quick glance, have all got good, consistent form, which is important. We’re in with a chance,” he said.

McNeil admitted it has been a “character-building week” and said he plans to return at Sha Tin this Sunday after having his Covid-induced absence extended to three meetings.

While Zac Purton and Antoine Hamelin were given until race day to test negative after recent Covid positives of their own, according to Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges that was not an option for the IJC.

Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges at Monday’s International Jockeys’ Championship draw.

“We wanted to be really fair. We waited for [Sunday’s] result and then – with the likelihood he’ll still be positive on Wednesday – we had to make [a decision] for today. With the weights, you can’t have a replacement jockey,” he said.

Purton, who is chasing a third straight IJC victory and a record fourth win overall, praised the evenness of the competition after Monday morning’s draw at Sha Tin.

“One thing I did notice is I thought there was a bit more depth in the field this year. It’s good the owners and trainers have supported it, and I think it’s going to be competitive,” Purton said.

“It’s up for grabs. There are a number of riders who have chances, so it’s just going to come down to who can get the cleanest runs on the night and present their horses to give their best.”

Jockeys, trainers and officials at Monday’s International Jockeys’ Championship draw.

The Jockey Club has brought in a number of initiatives in recent years to improve the IJC, with a system introduced in 2020 to combat examples of riders being dealt incredibly strong or weak hands.

Jockey Challenge odds compilers assess each galloper’s hopes before rides are allocated, with each jockey then given four mounts based on an estimated average of each horse’s chances.

There is a 20 per cent increase in prize money for the four legs, as well as a trainers’ bounty of HK$350,000 to encourage connections to target the races.

The winning trainer walks away HK$200,000 better off, with Caspar Fownes, David Hayes and David Hall all attacking the IJC with five runners.

The IJC works on a points-based system with 12 points for first, six for second and four for third, with the winning jockey pocketing HK$500,000.


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