A furious Eric Saint-Martin declared Dec. 28 that he is finished in Hong Kong racing after stipendiary stewards slammed him with an improper riding charge and a two-month suspension of his license.
Saint-Martin, 43, had intended retiring from the saddle at the end of the season anyway but has been enjoying a purple patch of form, making his actions and subsequent outburst all the more surprising.
Saint-Martin stormed off Sha Tin after private discussions with stewards’ panel member Philip Dingwall, but repeated that he is “finished” in Hong Kong.
“They have given me two months, they obviously do not want me here,” Saint-Martin said angrily. “If they don’t want me here, I don’t need to be here. I am finished --- I will be leaving Hong Kong tomorrow. You can put that in the paper --- I am leaving.”
Saint-Martin and-seven pound claiming local jockey Paul Lo Pak-hin had engaged in a shoving match down the back straight in the third event at Sha Tin, the Sai Wan Shan Handicap (1,650 meters), in which the Frenchman had handled Chater de Lago for trainer David Ferraris. Lo was steering his mount Storm’s Destiny in across Chater de Lago and the interference continued for approximately 100 meters until Saint-Martin became exasperated and defended himself by pushing the local rider out of the way with his left elbow.
Lo retaliated by continuing to push an inward course on his mount and eventually raised his right elbow and pushed into the neck of Chater de Lago.
Stewards spent much of the afternoon dealing with the matter, but Saint-Martin showed his class, riding a superbly-judged race to win the feature event, the Gome Cup, on topweight Syllabus and completing a double by landing the last for John Moore on Rewarding Star.
Saint-Martin pleaded not guilty to the improper riding charge and argued vigorously against the panel taking action against him, but stewards found he had crossed the line.
“Bearing in mind jockey Saint-Martin’s prior record in matters of this kind, he was suspended from riding in races until February 23, with immediately effect,” said chief steward Jamie Stier.
Jockey Lo, who had never previously transgressed beyond normal careless riding infringements, was also charged with improper riding. He pleaded guilty and was suspended for eight meetings, also with immediate effect.
Last season, Saint-Martin was also suspended on a careless riding charge for deliberately steering his mount into a horse ridden by Terry Wong Chi-wai after the winning post.
When licenses were issued for 2008-09 at the end of last season, Saint-Martin was given his with a warning -- that a repeat offence could see his situation reviewed. He is understood to have given a verbal commitment to never reoffend.
In total, Saint-Martin has now been suspended four times for improper riding in a Hong Kong career that began in 1982. His double Dec. 28 took him to 19 wins for the season and equal fourth place on the jockeys’ premiership, while his career tally in Hong Kong moved to 424.
Stier showed the patrol footage to the media and said that there was no excuse for a jockey taking matters into his own hands and elbowing an errant fellow jockey out of the way.
“We do not accept that he was in danger of being brought down by interference, and the correct course of action should have been to hold his position and leave the punishment (of jockey Lo) to the stewards,” Stier added.
Saint-Martin’s departure and Lo’s suspension comes at a bad time for the Jockey Club. Following Felix Coetzee’s return to South Africa and a glut of recent suspensions, there were only 17 riders (including apprentices) available at Dec. 27’s meeting servicing fields of 14.
Brett Prebble and Derek Leung Ka-chun return from suspension for the Jn. 21 New Year meeting at Sha Tin, and Darren Beadman will be back from injury.