THE Cathay Pacific International Jockeys’ Championship is the traditional curtain-raiser to the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races each December.

It is also an event which generates enormous enthusiasm and public support in its own right, as every year on the Wednesday evening before International Day a specially invited group of the greatest names in international race-riding converge on Happy Valley to take part in individual competition with Hong Kong’s finest.

Previous visiting winners have included Frankie Dettori (twice); Christophe Soumillon; Damien Oliver; Olivier Peslier (twice), Andrasch Starke (twice) and Johnny Murtagh, Ryan Moore and Christophe Lemaire who dead heated in 2009. So far, however, Douglas Whyte, champion jockey of Hong Kong for the last 10 years, leads the field with three victories.

This year, the list of invitees is particularly exciting as it features a number of outstanding riders who will be competing in the event for the first time.

They include French sensation Julien Leparoux, who has taken US racing by storm in the last few seasons riding more winners (403) in the USA than any other rider in the same year (2006) that he received the Eclipse Award as Champion Apprentice, and last season winning both the Shoemaker Award as Champion Breeders’ Cup Jockey and Eclipse Award as Champion Jockey of the USA. Leparoux is one of those extreme rarities a jockey who has in his time ridden seven winners at a single meeting.

Against him will be Nash Rawiller, winner for the first time of the Sydney Jockeys’ Premiership in 2009/10 and, with nine wins, leading jockey in Australia last season in terms of Group 1 victories. Another newcomer will be Brazilian Joao Moreira, currently sweeping all before him in Singapore where he is all but certain to be champion jockey this year and who, with two months still to go has already passed his century of winners and broken the all time Singaporean record for number of winners ridden in a season.

A fourth outstanding rider making his Cathan Pacific International Jockeys' Championship debut will be Hiroyuki Uchida, who last season took the championship of Japan away from 16 times champion Yutaka Take, and become only the second rider to deprive Take of the title since 1992. And a fifth is Anton Marcus, champion jockey of South Africa for the last two seasons, brother of former Hong Kong champion Basil, and winner of 384 races since 2008.

Competing against these new arrivals however are a group of international superstars at the peak of their riding form, including Ballydoyle stable jockey and multiple Irish champion Johnny Murtagh who has this year won Group 1s on Starspangledbanner and Rip Van Winkle; Belgian Soumillon who has been in his usual rampant form with Group 1 victories on Makfi and Stacelita; Christophe Lemaire who has ridden Group 1 winners in Japan, Britain, the UAE and Hong Kong as well as in his native France, and Ryan Moore, now recognised as the finest jockey in Britain and winner in 2010 of both the Oaks and the Derby at Epsom and the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe. The home defence will once again be led by the formidable Douglas Whyte who will be joined by two leading jockeys from Hong Kong as on 29 November 2010.

In a departure from the previous format, in which only three races counted for the title, an extra race will be added to the Cathay Pacific International Jockeys' Championship in 2010 thereby giving the competition yet more depth and excitement.

Will local knowledge triumph over the tactical cunning of the invaders? Will fresh talent be a match for the strength and shrewdness of the veterans?

With so many brilliant jockeys riding at the peak of their powers and so many others challenging for the first time, Cathay Pacific International Jockeys' Championship 2010 on 8 December promises to be an even more succulent appetizer than usual for the 12 December banquet that is Cathay Pacific International Racing Day.