By Declan Schuster, Hong Kong Jockey Club
Harry Bentley is eager to test his mettle in Hong Kong when he kicks off his short-term contract this Saturday (17 April) at Sha Tin with six rides.
Signed on to ride until the conclusion of this season, Bentley, 28, arrives with a wealth of international experience – grounding which he hopes holds him in good stead as he readies himself for the challenging cauldron of Hong Kong racing.
“It was definitely a surprise but a very welcome surprise, I’ve already said it a few times but I always really wanted to come out here at one stage and give it a go because I feel like I fit the mould quite well, I’ve got some good international experience and my weight’s really good,” Bentley said.
Bentley, a six-time champion jockey in Qatar, will complete his three weeks of mandatory quarantine at midnight this evening and is looking forward to being in the thick of the action in two days’ time, rather than watching on from the confines of a hotel room in view of the bright lights at Happy Valley.
“I’m chomping at the bit, I feel good and obviously I haven’t sat on a horse since I’ve been here which is close to a month now but that won’t be a problem and now seems the perfect time to give it a go, I have good experience behind me but I’m still quite young also,” Bentley said.
“I’m under no illusions in how competitive this place is, it’s a very good pool of jockeys to compete against and I’m managing my expectations but at the same time I want to give it my all – you have to be confident in your own abilities, if I came in here with no confidence, I may as well not bother, I’m definitely coming in with managed expectations but at the same time I’m confident in my abilities,” Bentley said.
Learning his craft under the watchful eye of trainer Gary Moore – father of three-time British champion jockey Ryan – Bentley has ridden over 1000 winners since his first ride in 2009, gaining experience along the way, largely in the United Kingdom and Qatar, as well as France, Germany, Canada, the United States and United Arab Emirates ahead of what will be first foray in the Far East.
“I started going away to the Middle East when I was only 18 years old and I’ve been abroad every single year since I started riding for the last 11 seasons,” Bentley said. “I’ve ridden a lot in Dubai and Qatar but also all around the Middle East in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.”
Bentley’s time in the Middle East began when he was 18, he rode with distinction in Qatar, winning the 2013 QAT G1 Qatar Derby (2000m) and 2014 QAT G1 Qatar Gold Cup (2200m) in his first season there, his exploits that same campaign also includes a six-timer.
“I had a great time in Qatar and I do think my experience from there will stand me in good stead because it’s quite a small oval track which is only around a mile around, it’s not quite as tight as Happy Valley but it’s a tight track where it’s very pace and speed dependent, you have to be very positive from the stalls and I think that’ll give me a bit of an edge rather than having only arrived with experience from the United Kingdom,” Bentley said.
Brought up in West Sussex, Great Britain, Bentley’s first win came in January, 2010 at Kempton Park Racecourse on the all-weather surface aboard Prince Valentine, rated a 12/1 chance.
“I definitely am (used to being out of my comfort zone), I’m used to going into different jurisdictions with different styles of racing, different stewarding, different jockeys and I definitely think that I am very adaptable in that way – I’ve had to be going to a number of different places and I hope that experience abroad will only be a positive,” Bentley said.
Bentley has two G1s to his name aboard crack sprinter Limato, trained by Henry Candy, scoring in the 2016 July Cup (1207m) at Newmarket Racecourse and the Prix de la Foret (1400m) at Chantilly Racecourse.
“I think he (Limato) was very important for my career, it’s always good to be able to perform on the big stage in Group 1s and he was definitely important for me and my breakthrough winning Group 1s but not only that, he was just such a good horse to be associated with,” Bentley said.
Bentley has also ridden over 50 winners in each of the past six UK flat racing seasons, his current minimum riding weight is 118lb.
“I’ve always had ponies growing up, myself and my brother, we were always competitive with each other – I’ve done it all, the pony club, cross-country and showjumping.”
“I was very lucky growing up because I was able to go out the back and jump straight on a pony, we lived very much in the countryside in West Sussex,” Bentley said.
And as a youth, Bentley’s mind was on one thing: “I don’t actually remember not wanting to be a jockey, it was a matter of when it was going to happen not if.”
Prior to his debut this Saturday, Bentley reached out to Ryan Moore, William Buick and Silvestre de Sousa for advice, all of whom have ridden with considerable success in Hong Kong.
“I spoke at length with Ryan Moore, I’ve known him for a while through riding and I was apprentice to his father Gary and the reason I was first ever able to go to Dubai was because Ryan helped me get over there,” the jockey said.
Bentley’s campaign kicks off in the opener this Saturday, the first of his six rides on the card, aboard Telecom Missile in the Class 5 Suffolk Handicap (1200m), the opening race on the 10-race fixture, kicking off at 1pm.
“I’ve definitely formed an opinion of my rides and to be honest, I’m very used to riding on dirt tracks too, I’ve ridden a lot at Meydan in Dubai as well as Saudi Arabia too,” he said.
Bentley’s first look at Sha Tin comes on the turf but he also has three rides on the dirt, firstly aboard Gameplayer Times in the Class 3 Dorset Handicap (1650m) for trainer Douglas Whyte.