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Antoine Hamelin to join Hong Kong riding ranks after answering SOS

The Frenchman beats the border closure and will start riding next month once he spends 14 days in compulsory quarantine

Frenchman Antoine Hamelin has answered an SOS from the Jockey Club and is set to join the Hong Kong riding ranks next month after he spends 14 days of compulsory quarantine in a hotel room.

The 28-year-old left France on Monday, arriving in Hong Kong on Tuesday, and will stay until the end of the season, helping to ease the shortfall of riders at Sha Tin.

The coronavirus has changed plans for everyone around the world and Hamelin takes the slot left open by South African Aldo Domeyer, who has opted to stay in Cape Town with his family given the heavy travel restrictions now put in place everywhere.

Hamelin, who had 71 winners in 2019, was available with France shutting down racing until April 15 – and that date is likely to be extended given the current landscape.

The jockey got the call on Sunday and wasted no time making the move, ensuring he arrived before the Hong Kong government locked down the city to all non-residents for two weeks.

“Since the borders are being closed, I had to leave earlier than planned,” he told French racing outlet Jour de Galop. “It was a very hasty decision but as the races are stopped in France [I decided to go].”

Hamelin has ridden in Hong Kong once before, finishing 10th on Saonois in the 2012 Group One Hong Kong Cup behind California Memory. That horse was also responsible for his biggest race win, which came in the 2012 Group One Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly.

For Wednesday night’s meeting at Happy Valley there are just 15 jockeys available, which is one short of the minimum the Jockey Club wants. The thought process being there needs to be four more jockeys than the field capacity, which is 12 at the city track and on the Sha Tin dirt, but 14 on the Sha Tin turf.

There are currently 19 on the roster, but three are suspended – Karis Teetan, Dylan Mo Hin-tung and Alfred Chan Ka-hei – while Keith Yeung Ming-lun will miss Wednesday night’s card as a precaution after feeling unwell on Sunday. He was tested for Covid-19 but the result came back negative on Monday.

Replacements for his five mounts have been named with Jack Wong Ho-nam jumping aboard Target Finder, Perfect Harmony and Sonic Fighter. Alex Lai Hoi-wing will ride Perfect Harmony while Ben So Tik-hung is going to partner Hang’s Decision.

The other new arrival to the riding ranks, apprentice Gary Lo King-yeung, was due to kick off his Hong Kong career at Sha Tin on Sunday but that seems highly unlikely as he is yet to be allocated a stable.

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