Hong Kong call leads to gilt-edged opportunity for Richards

By Dennis Ryan

24 Dec 2021

Hong Kong call leads to gilt-edged opportunity for RichardsThe Te Akau triumvirate of David Ellis, Mark Walker and Jamie Richards. Photo supplied by New Zealan

A process that began with a phone call six months ago has led to an even bigger surprise with the announcement last Friday that Jamie Richards has been granted a trainer’s licence by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
Richards, who broke all previous records last season with his third premiership win at the helm of Te Akau Racing, received a call out of the blue in June from the HKJC’s chief steward and head of licensing, Kim Kelly. That set in motion a process that over the past four decades has drawn a selection of the world’s best trainers to the mecca that is Hong Kong racing.
The likes of Australians David Hayes, John Size, John Moore and David Hall have each made their mark in the Asian enclave, while 11-time New Zealand premiership winner Paul O’Sullivan became the first Kiwi to be offered the gilt-edged opportunity in 2004.
There’s no actual surprise that someone of Richards’ calibre should be chosen to join the elite group of resident Sha Tin trainers. After all, what he has achieved in less than six years, which includes an astounding 50 Group One wins across New Zealand and Australia, identifies him as a rare talent and now the youngest ever Hong Kong recruit at age 32.
The surprise element relates to the manner in which six months of negotiations took place with no inkling of the pending announcement amongst the rank and file of the New Zealand racing industry. That is due in no small part to the strategic management instilled by the team led by Te Akau Racing founder David Ellis and which, given the HKJC’s stipulation for confidentiality, was entirely appropriate.
“Yes we had to play it close, that’s an understandable expectation of the Jockey Club,” explained Richards. “From that first phone call in June right through to last week, it’s been quite a process.
“Obviously it’s a huge thrill for me personally but also for everyone who has been part of getting me to this point. I’ll be forever indebted to David (Ellis) and Karyn (Fenton-Ellis) simply because none of what I’ve achieved could have been possible without the massive support they’ve given me.
“Mark (Walker) has also played a big part in my career and even though he has been based in Singapore right through my time with Te Akau, he’s always been available with valuable input.”
Having just added a fourth Singapore trainers’ premiership to his five New Zealand titles, Walker will hand over the reins of Te Akau’s Singapore stable to fellow expat Donna Logan, who is in her fourth season at Kranji and earlier this year landed her biggest win there in the Gr. 1 Kranji Mile.
From early February he will be back in Matamata, when he and Richards will begin a transition process ahead of the latter’s anticipated departure for Hong Kong in May.
“It’s exciting for Jamie, while for me I think it’s got a good sense of timing about it,” Walker told RaceForm this week from Sydney, his first stop on the way to Queensland ahead of next month’s Magic Millions Gold Coast Sale. On a personal level he’s also looking forward to spending time with his teenaged children Zavier and Alexis, who live in the Sunshine State.
“It’s been hard with all the Covid restrictions; I haven’t seen the kids for two years and in time it’s going to be a lot easier to continue to be more involved with them.”
Farm-raised Walker has always had a long-term plan to return to a rural lifestyle that is the antithesis of life in Singapore and he’s already looking forward to what that means for his training career.
“I’m sure that heading back to Matamata will be easy. It’s not as if I’ll be in unfamiliar territory as far as the training facilities and everything else there goes. I’ve always kept in close contact with the operation back in New Zealand and I’m really looking forward to getting hands on there again.”
Te Akau founder David Ellis identifies nothing but positives in the pending changes. “It’s a win for everyone,” he says. “For Jamie to be offered such a fantastic opportunity, for Mark to be returning to where his career began, for Donna Logan, who is a Group One-winning trainer in three countries, and for Te Akau and all our owners.
“It’s absolutely fantastic for Jamie, we’re so happy for him, and it’s magic what it means for New Zealand racing and breeding to think we’re going to have such a talented young trainer up in Hong Kong.
“Te Akau has a number of Hong Kong clients and one of them who has a PPG permit has already agreed to place his new horse with Jamie, and of course Mark and I will be doing everything we can to help him up there.
“What Jamie has achieved in such a short time shows that anybody who works in racing can start at the ground floor and reach the top. It takes a lot of hard work but if you really want it you can get there.
“As for the whole Te Akau operation, Karyn and I have been saying that we’re going to take it to the next level, and I’m sure that will happen with Mark back in New Zealand working with the best collection of horses and the best staff we’ve ever had.”