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What does reputation count for? The Alberto Sanna conundrum

The likeable Italian had earned a licence extension with his hard work, tenacity and results before being hit with a 12-meeting suspension – will he still get it?

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Of all the jockeys at Sha Tin, Sanna is just about the last one you would expect to be caught up in a situation like this.

That is not a shot at anyone else, on the contrary, it is meant to highlight the extent to which the Italian pushes himself to get the most out of every horse – no matter the odds. It is a reputation he has built in his 700-plus rides, 33 winners and 108 placings across four Hong Kong seasons.

Coming off a couple of horrible injuries (a shattered hip and broken ankle) in 2018-19 and having only been granted a four-month contract by the Jockey Club – Sanna was going to leave no stone unturned to secure his long-term future in Hong Kong, knowing he only had a small margin for error.

“I’m quite happy to only have four months, because it makes me more determined to show what I can do and I have no doubt I will do it and stay the whole season,” Sanna told the Post in June.

And you know what? It was a fait accompli he was going to maintain his spot on the roster. He earned that extension with his tenacity, hard work and results.

Securing eight winners (after just six during the interrupted 2018-19 season) in less than three months from limited opportunities is as good a start as he could have hoped for.

Sanna formed a strong alliance with jockey-turned-trained Douglas Whyte, parlaying that into a couple of wins for Ricky Yiu Poon-fai and culminating with his first Group victory in Hong Kong aboard Caspar Fownes’ Southern Legend (at $28) in the Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse at the start of November. Things were going really well.

Sanna knew he wasn’t going to get the same quality of rides as Joao Moreira or Zac Purton – but he could make his count.

The likeable 34-year-old won the respect of his peers and others in the racing bubble with his approach.

“It’s the minor things like finishing fourth or fifth with big-odds horses, they are good things and people can see it – they know I always try my best,” Sanna told the Post in October.

Unfortunately, there is a now a question mark over that last statement.

There is no way to sugar-coat it, Sanna’s ride on Dances With Dragon was unacceptable. The optics are terrible.

To summarise the steward speak in the report: he didn’t try hard enough when it mattered. He didn’t do his job to the standard required and give the horse every chance to secure the best possible placing. The betting public – and integrity of the sport – need to be protected.

The replay is a painful watch and completely out of character. It just doesn’t fly in the most scrutinised jurisdiction in the world. Sanna clearly knows it is bad – he pleaded guilty to the charge.

People are trying to understand what on earth was going through his mind.

Was there a financial gain involved? Was he simply doing what he was told? Did he feel he had no choice and is taking the fall for someone else? Was he under pressure and in two minds about what to do in the moment? Did he just have a brain fade?

They are the questions being asked. There is only one person who can answer them and understandably, Sanna is not ready to talk given he has appealed the severity of the suspension and the process is ongoing.

Dances With Dragons was a $37 chance and there is not a lot of upside for laying one via the illegal markets at that price. Of course, if it is heavily laid at or near that quote, there would be a huge payout if it did win. There is only a small benefit or enormous downside in that equation.

Why risk everything you have worked so hard for in an average Class Two on Dances With Dragon?

Sanna is not the most talented jockey to ever come through Hong Kong, but he built a name for himself as a good guy – a hard-worker who gives his all.

There is a genuine feeling of bewilderment among industry participants about Sanna’s involvement in this, which is unusual for a largely sceptical group. There is a lot of sympathy – he is well liked.

Whichever way you look at it, Sanna has made a mistake and been punished for it.

If he had a full-season licence, he would serve his time, learn his lesson and return with that trademark determination to prove it was a one-off. Many jockeys have bounced back from that position before.

But that’s where this situation gets complicated. His licence expires on December 31. Right in the middle of his suspension. The timing is awful for him.

Will the Jockey Club licensing committee give an extension to someone who was on a “prove it” short-term contract and will be serving a lengthy ban? How many credits does he have in the bank? Does he get the benefit of the doubt after years of hard work?

There are a few variations of this saying, but it is apt in this situation: a reputation takes a lifetime to build and only seconds to destroy.

Will Sanna get the opportunity to make amends or will this indiscretion cost him his Hong Kong career?

If it is the latter, the real penalty far exceeds 12 meetings.

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