Two and a half years after taking on what he knew would be the biggest challenge of his professional career, jockey Blake Shinn tells TDN AusNZ that he is starting to feel all his hard work to establish himself in Hong Kong is starting to pay off.

Shinn headed to Hong Kong in July 2019 as a 21-time Group 1 winner, including two of Australia’s greatest races, the Melbourne Cup and the Golden Slipper, but was well aware that reputation would count for little in what is arguably the most competitive jockey environment in the world.

What he wasn’t aware of was that he would have to change the very way he rides a horse, going back to fundamentals to compete with the likes of Zac Purton and Joao Moreira on a daily basis.

Shinn rode 15 winners in his first Hong Kong season, then 24 in his second, including his first local feature, securing an upset win on the John Size-trained Excellent Proposal (Exceed And Excel) in the Listed Hong Kong Classic Mile.

The current season has seen Shinn compile 14 winners, but most importantly two Group 1 winners. He broke through for his first (internationally recognised) top-flight winner when the Caspar Fownes-trained Sky Field (Deep Field) won the G1 Hong Kong International Sprint in December, but celebrations were muted, with that race marred by a tragic fall.

On Sunday, he was able to celebrate his win aboard Russian Emperor (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) in the G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup with full gusto as they raced to a 4.25l victory.

What was also significant for Shinn was that it was achieved for trainer Douglas Whyte, a man he held in enormous esteem when he was in the saddle and with whom he has developed a strong connection with.

“Douglas is a 13-time Champion Jockey in Hong Kong. He’s done it all and is making his mark as a trainer. He’s wonderful to ride for. He gives you so much confidence as a rider and he understands his horses really well,” Shinn told TDN AusNZ.

“I really respect him greatly as a professional sportsman, for what he has achieved and now what he has been able to achieve as a trainer.”

“I really respect him (Douglas Whyte) greatly as a professional sportsman, for what he has achieved and now what he has been able to achieve as a trainer.” – Blake Shinn

Shinn has now ridden three winners for Whyte this season, making him the second most successful trainer combination for the Australian this season, behind David Hayes with four.

“I think we have got a great working relationship and for him to have the trust in me to ride a horse like Russian Emperor is really satisfying, especially in such an important race,” he said.

Getting back to basics

The philosophy of needing to take on the best to be the best was very much behind Shinn’s move to Hong Kong. Whyte established an incredibly high standard as a jockey in the territory during his career and the likes of Moreira and Purton have arguably raised that bar even higher. Such is their dominance – Moreira leads the jockeys’ title this year on 74 wins ahead of Purton on 71, twice as many as any other jockey – Shinn has had to work very hard to get his opportunities. The Group 1 successes of the past couple of months are the first major green shoots of the work he has put in since his arrival.

“It’s starting to build. I still don’t believe I feel fully cemented in Hong Kong, although I have won a couple of Group 1s. I do feel I’m starting to get to where I’m making inroads,” he said.

“Hong Kong is a really tough place to crack and not being able to ride under 121 (pounds, or 54.8kg) makes it difficult. I just continue to work hard day in, day out. It’s been pretty rewarding two and a half years of working hard, and just hanging in there and persevering. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Shinn was always prepared to work hard on his arrival, but what has surprised him is that in many ways he has had to rebuild the way he rides and the way he prepares in order to compete with the best.

“When I first got here, I put things into perspective pretty quickly. I was able to evaluate where I was at. I came to the realisation that I’m going have to put in a lot of hard work and refine my skills,” he said.

“I have had to start over again in many ways. Coming into a new working environment, I’ve learned from scratch and recrafted my skills to ride against the world-class riders like Zac (Purton) and Joao Moreira.

“I feel like I have improved a lot as a jockey and the results are starting to show that. I still feel I have a long way to go and I’m 34 years old, but hopefully I’ve got another 10-15 years left in my riding career and that’s an exciting thing to think about. I feel I still have a lot to offer.”

The mental focus

It may seem surprising that a rider of Shinn’s experience – he rode his first winner in 2003 and his first Group 1 winner two years later – needed to go back to basics and start again. Explaining that further, Shinn said it was as much as honing his mental approach to cope with the expectations of riding in Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong is such a pressure-cooker environment and you have to really learn to trust yourself and trust what you are doing is right,” he said.

“I believe I have always been a hard worker and I’ve always believed I could do it in Hong Kong. Although sometimes you don’t always get the results, you just have to believe they are going to happen if you are putting in that work.

“A result like that Group 1, it’s years in the making in many ways. It hasn’t happened overnight and it’s quite satisfying to see those years of hard work coming to fruition.

“Although sometimes you don’t always get the results, you just have to believe they are going to happen if you are putting in that work.” – Blake Shinn

“I’m proud of myself in that regard and I’m proud of the people that have supported me and believed in me.”

An Emperor’s destiny

Shinn began his association with Russian Emperor in the G2 Jockey Club Cup in November, and was third aboard the son of Galileo (Ire) in both the G1 Hong Kong Cup and the G1 Stewards’ Cup.

Russian Emperor went into Sunday’s race as an 11-start Hong Kong maiden, having not won a race since his G3 Hampton Court S. victory at Royal Ascot in 2020. However, as a son of Australian Champion Mare Atlantic Jewel (Fastnet Rock) who was purchased by owner Mike Cheung Shun Ching from the Ballydoyle stables of Aidan O’Brien, he has always carried a big profile.

Sunday’s Hong Kong Gold Cup saw him start second-favourite behind the Hong Kong champion Golden Sixty (Medaglia D’Oro {USA}), who jumped at $1.40.

“We had a big stumbling block there in Golden Sixty, who is obviously Hong Kong’s best racehorse at present. I was confident in my horse’s ability to believe that we could beat Golden Sixty, I thought this was our chance,” Shinn said.

“I was confident in my horse’s ability to believe that we could beat Golden Sixty, I thought this was our chance.” – Blake Shinn

“I said in the press earlier in the week, that I thought I could if we were ever going to do it, this was the race. It’s just great that when you have a plan and believe in yourself, you believe in your horse it comes to fruition.”

While it was a second Group 1 success for both Whyte and Shinn, the jockey paid greatest tribute to a horse that he has worked hard with to elicit his considerable ability.

“The horse absolutely deserves it. He ran second in the (Hong Kong) Derby. He put in an unbelievable performance in the international day. He’s a horse the just puts his heart on the line, he has thoroughly deserved it,” he said.

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