Lyle Hewitson has told Keagan de Melo he cannot afford to fail in Hong Kong and that success in the city comes to expatriate riders who stay the course.
De Melo makes his Hong Kong debut at Sha Tin on Sunday – he holds three engagements – and no one is better placed than Hewitson to advise one of his successors as South Africa’s champion jockey about the city racing scene’s soaring highs and crushing lows.
Last term, Hewitson raised a metaphorical bat when he scored his first half-century of wins in a single Hong Kong season and cracked the premiership’s top five.
It continued Hewitson’s remarkable rise up Hong Kong’s riding ranks after South Africa’s three-time champion jockey lost his first 140 races in the city before he steered Last Kingdom to victory in December 2019.
“Keagan’s outlook is he’s got to make it work,” Hewitson said. “It’s the same for a lot of us South Africans when we come here. We’ve got to make it work because we can’t backtrack to South Africa. It’s not feasible once you see what you can achieve here.
“Nobody could have had it harder than me. It doesn’t get worse than that, and look where I’m now. I’m only halfway to where I want to be, if even that. But from where I started, it’s a bloody long way.
“I said [to Keagan], I don’t feel sorry for anybody because I managed to get through it, and I’m not mentally special in that I’m the only person who could get through that situation. Anybody can if they apply themselves and really want to achieve it.
“So I said, the main thing is you could kick off your first meeting and just fly, but if you don’t and it takes a few [meetings], just keep going and keep chipping away because if you show up, you put in the hard yards and you make an opportunity count when it does come, you can turn things around completely.”
De Melo knows Hewitson and Luke Ferraris from his days competing against them before each brought their blossoming talents to Hong Kong. The South African riders are friends off the track but rivals on it.
“They’re good mates of mine,” De Melo said of Hewitson and Ferraris. “Obviously, they’ve pointed me in the right direction. There’s only so much they can do for me. I’ve got to go out there and make a name for myself, but they’ve given me some good pointers.
“You can be friends out of racing, but in racing, you’ve got a job to do at the end of the day.
“Riding in South Africa is very competitive, but you want to make it on the world stage. Hong Kong was the next step for me. I thought it was the right time.”
De Melo’s assignments on opening day at Sha Tin are aboard Caspar Fownes-trained maiden Valhalla in the Class Five Kowloon Peak Handicap (1,200m), David Hall-prepared sprinter Speedstar in the Class Four Ma On Shan Handicap (1,400m) and Ricky Yiu Poon-fai-conditioned miler Prime Minister in Sunday’s card-closing Class Two Tai Mo Shan Handicap (1,400m).
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