Blake Shinn to leave Hong Kong at the end of the season after months of living under suffocating Covid-19 restrictions

Blake Shinn to leave Hong Kong at the end of the season after months of living under suffocating Covid-19 restrictions

 

Blake Shinn will not ride in Hong Kong next season, with the Australian jockey saying the mental stress of living under suffocating Covid-19 restrictions has become too much.

Applications for licences for next season were due on Thursday but Shinn made the agonising decision not to submit one after months of living within the confines of the Jockey Club’s “racing bubble”.

“It breaks my heart to not be coming back. I have worked very hard here, I have coped with the tough environment of getting accepted on the track but this isn’t about the sport,” Shinn told local racing media. “I absolutely love Hong Kong racing and I have met some great people, ridden for some fantastic trainers and formed some relationships that I treasure.

“I’ve been able to ride some of Hong Kong’s best horses and was very much looking forward to being here for a long time, but the mental stress of being locked up alone for the last few months has just become too much.”

From early February until last week, jockeys and trainers were largely only able to leave home to go to work and they have been unable to mix with anyone they don’t live with as the Jockey Club does everything possible to ensure racing continues.

 

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Hong Kong racing’s key participants have been given some room to move recently but are still living under far tighter restrictions than everyday Hongkongers.

“I understand that the club’s priority has been to keep racing going during a difficult time and the club acknowledges that a lot has been asked of the jockeys to accomplish that but, at a certain point, it becomes a mental health issue,” Shinn said.

“I do my job and come home – I can’t mix with friends inside or outside of racing. I feel like I’m in jail.”

Shinn has worked tirelessly to embed himself in the Hong Kong riding ranks since beginning his career in the city at the start of the 2019-20 season, riding 15 winners in his first season and 24 last term.

He has really come into his own this campaign, with his victory aboard Jazz Angel at Sha Tin on Saturday his 25th of the season, while he’s also tasted Group One success aboard Sky Field and Russian Emperor.

 

Jockey Club loosens restrictions on key participants, but it must be the first of many steps

The 34-year-old will see out the season and is determined to continue his good form.

“As it stands my main focus is to try and reach my goal of 40 winners and do the right thing by the trainers who have stuck by me, and also the club, but I have got to do what is best for me,” Shinn said.

O’Sullivan scales back

Paul O’Sullivan was forced to quash rumours of his retirement last week but while the veteran New Zealander plans to be training in Hong Kong next season, he will scale back his operations somewhat.

O’Sullivan is in the process of closing his Conghua yard and stabling all 37 gallopers on his books in Hong Kong, where trainers with dual-site operations are allowed to keep 45 horses.

“I’ve only got six or seven up there and two of them are PPGs that I’ve trialled and I’m retiring, so I just said to [Jockey Club executive director of racing] Andrew Harding that we might as well just pull them back, and he agreed,” O’Sullivan said after saluting with August Moon at Sha Tin on Saturday.

“People are getting a bit reluctant to send them back and I haven’t got my 45 horses here, so it’s just a common-sense thing.”

Trainer Paul O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan’s decision comes in tandem with a four-week border closure between Hong Kong and China that prevented Conghua-based horses from racing.

The impasse was resolved this week but O’Sullivan admitted he’d be surprised if some owners weren’t wary of having their horses stabled north of the border.

“There’s a number of horses that would have raced that didn’t race, so human nature would have it that they would possibly be [hesitant],” he said.

“If I owned a horse and I could have it at Sha Tin or Conghua, given the current climate of course you would like to have it at Sha Tin. I haven’t had anybody say to me ‘don’t send them back’, but I think at this stage they’re just as happy to have them here as up there.”