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Alex Lai feared he would never ride again as return from 721-day absence looms

Alex Lai Hoi-wing admits he feared he would never ride again as he prepares to bring to an end what will have been a 721-day absence from the saddle by the time the gates crash back at Sha Tin on Sunday.

After overcoming a persistent wrist injury, Lai has secured four rides on opening day and the 36-year-old says he is full of confidence ahead of his return.

“I’m just happy I have been able to come back, for a long time I didn’t think I would be able to ride again. It hasn’t been easy and I’m so happy,” Lai said.

“I’m feeling confident, I already have four rides for next weekend – three for Danny Shum [Chap-shing] and one for Manfred Man [Ka-leung].”

Lai fractured his left wrist when falling from the now-retired G-One Lover at Sha Tin on September 10, 2017, but what should have been a relatively routine recovery has kept the jockey sidelined for nearly two years.

“I had to have two lots of surgery because after the first time it was still fractured. They took some bone from my hip for my wrist, so it took a long time,” Lai said. “I’m very happy I have been able to make it back.”

Lai, who was crowned champion apprentice in 2004-05 and 2005-06, is as hungry as ever to add to the 273 winners he has amassed since his first race success in 2004.

“I’ve been working hard for two months, it’s been good after nearly two years out of the saddle,” he said.

Lai hasn’t landed a victory since saluting aboard Happy Life exactly four months before his fall and “wow” was the only response he could muster when asked what it would mean to return to the winners’ circle.

“I’ll have to wait and see how it feels,” Lai said eventually, admitting he is refusing to set himself a target for the season. “I’m not thinking about, I’ll just do my best, hopefully get a winner and keep going.”

Lai has a freelance licence for the entirety of the 2019-20 season but knows the cutthroat nature of Hong Kong racing could see his long-term future come under a cloud if he can’t return to his best.

“I’ve got maybe two more years left in me – depending on how I perform – but of course I’ll keep riding for as long as I can,” he said.

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