“We have 5,500 full-time staff and over 20,000 part-time staff. We are one of the major employers of Hong Kong and have a significant commitment to the community, through that and through tax and our charities.”
Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO, HKJC
“Hello, Pretty Flower. Speak to me.”
It was a hectic week for the HKJC and its CEO Winfried Englelbrecht-Bresges. Apart from all the ceremonies that he needed to attend to drive away the evil spirits before the start of the new racing season on Sunday, plus presenting a much-needed HK$7 billion plan for the future of racing in Hong Kong, “E.B” has also been busy waging a war against the Hong Kong Government.
This has to do with the Government’s seeming inability to grasp how to pronounce the term co-mingling, let alone understanding what it is and how it’s such a no-brainer to approve when one makes the time to do the maths and sees how much Hong Kong and its public can benefit from it.
Sometimes, we have to wonder if John Tsang, Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary, passed his maths exams.
“Now, now, Ween-freeed, please let me count all these beeeeeg numbers you are throwing at me. I am your gooood flennnn.”
Let’s never forget that the HKJC is Hong Kong’s biggest taxpayer and by stubbornly saying no to co-mingling, the government is really biting the very big hand that feeds it.
Perhaps all senior executives at the HKJC should wear the buttons shown below when meeting government officials.
“We are one of Hong Kong’s few truly global brands…But we are doing this despite working under the most constrained racing model anywhere, paying the highest tax rate and there is competition growing in strength all around us.” E.B.
If James Brown was the hardest working man in showbiz, then “E.B” aka “Wini” is the hardest working man in the global racing industry.
For the time being, “E.B” might not be the most popular person with the ultra- sensitive Hong Kong Government- but what he has accomplished is to take the roadblocks he and the Club are facing with co-mingling to a higher and bigger court of appeal: The Hong Kong public.
For the first time, the public is becoming aware and coming to grips with the money the Government is literally giving away to illegal and off-shore bookmakers and which could certainly boost Hong Kong’s coffers.
They- and all the non-racing journalists- who still have the perception that horse racing is made up of seedy old men, chewing on toothpicks, listening to a transistor and reading “form” on their tatty newspapers- are looking at THE BUSINESS of horse racing with new eyes and more open minds. Well, it’s taken enough time.
This BUSINESS also includes the ball-busting “quota” placed on the number of races the HKJC can simulcast.
With over HK$150m made on the handful of races which Hong Kong was allowed to bet on last season, again, the local Government is showing its stubborness or failure in maths to understand how doubling this “quota” can only benefit them- and the Hong Kong public.
Once the HKJC finds the right supporter amongst the city’s legislator councillors, we’re tipping that things will change and that the HKJC and “E.B” will have a great ally on their side.
Hong Kong racing is a great product. Yes, it IS Hong Kong’s ONLY truly global brand and it needs to be supported and nurtured. It cannot be taken for granted, bullied and kicked around like an old football.
Racing pages in newspapers and us writing about the problems it faces with the Government and the Home Affairs Bureau are all well and good. But both of us are preaching to the converted.
The “medium of the message”, however, should and must be expanded if racing is to find this “new generation of race-goers” many racing club have turned into a mantra.
But do they really know how to “speak” to this very complex and fickle group of consumers. We seriously doubt it. It’s just paying Corporate lip service.
This “new generation”ain’t gonna find out about the entertainment factor of horse racing reading hardcore and very niche racing information and news or listening to online radio stations or going onto racing websites written by racing geeks. And this, too, was addressed by the HKJC last week.
The marketing efforts to reach this group of future and present customers has meant the Club opening up new facilities, bringing music and OTHER forms of entertainment to Happy Valley on a REGULAR basis and turning something like Happy Wednesday which one looked like entering Le Rue Morgue to something fun, hip and cool.
Yikes! Scary shit!
In a nutshell, the club is trying to ensure that the chasm that exists between catering to the hardcore and niche race-goer and the current casual race-goer should no longer be there and how rectifying this problem cannot simply be some cosmetic changes and only seen on the BIG race days.
Casual race-goers wouldn’t know big from small- not when it comes to horse racing, anyway: If their mates are going, they go and that’s a big day.
In Hong Kong, anyway and where “hip” clubs and restaurants open and close faster than Paris Hilton’s legs, there is a need to keep up with and often overtake the Joneses and the Chans, Wynns and Wongs and the Ho’s- huh? Ho’s???- and everything being used to lure this consumer group to the very “opulent” nearby casinos in Macau.
Looks are very important and good taste be damned. Let gaudiness grab you by the nuts and suck you in, baby.
Crikey, Angela, did YOU design this monstrosity?
What casino operators throw into all the various junkets are things that include free accommodation- for the entire family- free entry to all shows, free this and that.
They know that all they need are one or two from these families sitting down at a baccarat table and dropping a few hundreds of thousands or a million and they have got their return on investment- plus, plus. AND they have hooked another sucker.
For the HKJC- and every other racing club- there is one major problem: Whether a new, young $10 punter or a nouveau riche million dollar punter, there is a need to change a number of incorrect perceptions about horse racing.
One of the most problematic of these is the perception that “all races are fixed.”
The young $10 punters are wary whereas the million dollar ones want to buy themselves “into the game”.
Yes, sadly, the very old fashioned and seedier and tackier perceptions of racing have not been addressed.
In the rush for “modernization”, the past has been left alone to to erode all the “good new stuff.”
Ask current casual racegoers and their idea of those who go racing are divided into two camps: Those sad sack yobs one sees in betting centres mumbling and grumbling to themselves and reeking of alcohol or toffee-nosed pretentious assholes who speak to people as if they have plums stuck up their nostrils. And then there are the yobs.
A Love Fest at the races.
There is also the problem of the hiring process of racing clubs and which we have gone on and on about: Most are the wrong people in the wrong jobs or the right people in the wrong jobs.
The “universe” of those doing the hiring is a very tiny one and which means never being able to think outta the box. The hires are usually Yes People who are scared of their own shadows and never question even the most daft idea by those who have hired and bought them into servitude.
There’s is a very blinkered view of the world and which is there for all to see when trying to communicate with those who don’t know and care bugger all about horse racing. Things become awfully forced and very very b-o-r-i-n-g.
Meanwhile, those whose roles are “tenuous”- meaning no one knows what the fuck they do- have to meddle.They become wannabe and transparent politicians with lofty delusions of their importance- but with zero power other than a fancy title on a name-card.
These weeds needs to be be, well, weeded out- and quickly. Trying to be nice and keeping them on only adds to the problems. If their “time management” is to be petty and corporate boffins with no ideas of their own, they must go. Same if they cannot multi-task.
Going from meeting to meeting and saying one is “tired” is not exactly “working.” It’s just killing time and trying to SHOW that one is working.
Too many racing club say they’re changing- but never change the people- and which means no change at all. Just some unnecessary headaches.
At the HKJC, we are not saying things are perfect. Nothing can ever be perfect. Even the Mona Lisa had a lop-sided smile and there is something quite odd about Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel.
However, the Club has gone and made some real changes instead of just talking about them. It hasn’t been easy to have these changes approved and compromises and Key Performance Indicators will always come into play.
The main thing is that everything is off and running. It is all being delivered through new delivery systems and things have been improved- and will continue to improve, be enhanced and evolve.
What’s now important is to ensure that there are no human bumps along the road to slow things down.
Funny, how despite all this talk of new technology, if the human quotient is wrong, every company and industry comes apart at the seams.
This where having the right team- and teamwork- is imperative.
Take away the team from team work and all one is left with is work. Or pretending to work.
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WEIRD PHOTO OF THE WEEK
“No, Bill, NO! You’ve been doing so well with your diet!”
GET IT ON, BANG A GONG, THE NEW HK RACING SEASON IS ON!
While all new channels were depressing the hell outta everyone by showing the now all-too-familiar bombings of the twin towers and forcing us all to “re-live” the tragedies which unfolded a decade earlier on 9/11, Hong Kong had its “priorities” in order and flocked to Shatin racecourse for the first race meeting of the new season.
As many locals explained to us, according to the Chinese almanac, September 9th was a very good day to “start new businesses and start anything new” and how 9/11 “happened but how it’s time to remember but also time to move forward.”
Female race-goers find their ideal men at Shatin.
And move forward they did with Sunday’s meeting attracting 62,000 people and which was up 28% percent from last season. Plus, turnover was up a whopping 18% equally a figure last seen during the 2000-2001 season.
On a rather spooky note for this 9/11 meeting, the turnover was exactly HK$911 million.Very Twilight Zone!
With that, racing got under way- an average Class 5 race- as the clouds suddenly got gloomy and Shatin was awash with a sudden sun shower which didn’t stop Darren Beadman riding the first winner of the season aboard Planet for trainer Danny Shum.
With John Moore waiting until October for the stable to really start going in earnest, a jockey of Beadman’s calibre won’t be watching races from the sidelines and is in demand by many other trainers. Like Danny Shum.
The highlights- and low lights- of the meeting for us was the win of the Derek Cruz-trained and Brett Doyle-ridden gutsy eight-year-old, Joy and Fun, in the HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup which ran the raging hot pot Little Bridge ragged.
What a great training performance by Cruz and what a comeback by this oh-so-talented, modestly-bred eight-year-old galloper and one of our favourite gallopers who has suffered so many life-threatening injuries.
There was the win of Douglas Whyte on King Mossman. Originally, Brett Prebble was booked for the ride, but his duties in Japan meant that Whyte is said to have been asked to ride the horse by its trainer David Ferraris, only to have this decision “over-ruled” by the horse’s owner who insisted that it be ridden by 10-pound claimer Alvin Ng. Whoops. Bad call.
“Fucking hell, mate, what the fuck is this fucking bloke giving me? Don’t I have fucking nice hair?”
Whyte bounced his horse King Mossman to the front and though Bear Hero was “brave in defeat” over his first trip NOT over the straight 1000 metres and having to learn to take that corner in the 1200 metre race, he was baten by a more tactically savvy jockey.
That winning salute by Whyte to the grandstands seemed to say, “Next time, don’t send a boy to do a man’s job” but in slightly stronger terms.
“Aw, shit, I just crapped myself.”
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RUMOURS SWIRL ON DRUG POSITIVES FROM LEADING STABLE!
COULD MEAN VERY BLACK DAY FOR OZ RACING!
Racing and rumours have been Siamese twins since the industry first began. But, the rumours swirling around in racing circles in both Sydney and Melbourne are so strong that they have the potential to cause a major upheaval in the Australian racing industry at a critical time of the year – the eve of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.
The rumours centre on drug positives returned by numerous horses from one of Melbourne’s leading stables, which, from what we have gathered, has thrown Racing Victoria into a complete spin as to how to handle what could turn out to be one of the biggest crises in recent racing history.
It should be stressed that at this stage, the rumours are nothing more than that, even though it is being openly discussed in racing circles, and as is the case with most rumours, being embellished as they are passed on from one person to another.
IF the rumours are correct, then racing has a massive problem. The drug or substance may be nothing more than a therapeutic, but the way it has found its way into a horse’s system and the ramifications as to how racing deals with the whole issue of therapeutics will come firmly under the microscope.
IF as some suspect they have accidentally found themselves into horses from this stable, it still posses a major problem for racing authorities under the almost draconian Australian rules of racing which mandates disqualification for drug positives once a second sample has been validated by an independent second testing laboratory.
The issue is arguably one of the most difficult that the racing industry faces. Non-performance enhancing therapeutics can’t just be legalized just as over the counter medications are for human ailments and even for some animals.
There is the question of safety for one and the legal minefield that surrounds the permission to race horses that have been treated with prescribed therapeutic medications by veterinarians.
There is also the question of prize money which may have to be returned to the industry and redistributed to amended placegetters if horses are disqualified – imagine the implications for the return of black type prize money and for the potential for both the appreciation and depreciation in value of horses who are either promoted or demoted when race placings are revised.
IF the rumours we are hearing are right, one of our own prominent trainers in Sydney may also be facing a similar problem.
The real dilemma facing racing is the damage that these issues inflict on its image and integrity – and to the perception that racing has yet to come to terms with the issues, irrespective of the circumstances that may have resulted in positives, if indeed the rumours are confirmed.
If nothing else, Racing Victoria must act decisively and quickly.
IF there is a case to answer then a person’s reputation or position as one of the leading trainers should and must not influence the decision making process.
IS THE SALE OF CANTERBURY THE HIDDEN AGENDA?
It’s a question that has harassed the living daylights out of the voices inside our heads for some time. Is the sale of one of Sydney’s most valuable pieces of suburban real estate – aka Canterbury Racecourse, the elephant in the room in NSW Racing?
The nervousness, the uncomfortable looks, and the reluctance of many of the decision makers and some of their well placed and influential power brokers, becomes very apparent whenever the possibility of the sale of Canterbury is raised.
And yet, the more the financial woes and bankrupt state of NSW racing is raised, the more we hear of what will happen if Racing NSW does not emerge triumphant over those “evil” corporate bookmakers, the more the sale of Canterbury emerges as the front runner to “save” NSW racing – it’s the Plan “B” and probably has been all along.
Without consulting a real estate or land valuation expertise, our guess would be that given its location and size, Canterbury would be a billion dollar asset. Its sale would solve the financial woes of NSW racing – for the short term at least.
But it would be an indictment of the NSW racing industry – the darkest day in its recent clouded history, if such a valuable, vital and under utilized asset were allowed to be spruiked around Australia and internationally to property developers.
With the sub-standard racing surfaces which Randwick, Rosehill and Warwick Farm offer up, Canterbury is regarded, by respected racing folk, as Sydney’s best racing surface.
It is the best, if not the only option in Sydney for a regular night racing venue.
It is one of the projects that should be prioritized by the racing industry. Put some serious money into sprucing up Canterbury and give it night racing dates to coincide with Moonee Valley and Cranbourne down south.
As a wagering and leisure option, night racing, supported by a professional and edgy marketing campaign, can potentially turn things around in reaching the generation that racing has forgotten to communicate with.
It is the missing link which Sydney and Australian racing must embrace, as Hong Kong has so positively demonstrated with Happy Valley.
So many trainers and jockeys have repeatedly told us that Canterbury offers the most consistent and best racing surfaces in Sydney. They need to get their respective Associations to make a firm stand on ensuring Canterbury does not become another high rise commercial and residential monstrosity.
Selling off your assets can only provide temporary financial relief. It does not, cannot and will not provide the long term solution to the problems of the NSW racing industry.
It is the Plan “B” that may save the arses of some of the ego and agenda driven “big” names who keep reminding us that they have the interests of the so-called industry participants at heart.
We would like to know what our mate Johnny O’Shea thinks of Canterbury.
“Maybe if I ignore them, those fuckwits will go away.”
Come to think of it, the thoughts of his fellow inmates at the infamous trainers hut at Randwick as well, where all the woes of NSW racing are discussed in what must be a very convivial atmosphere.
Trouble is, that to our knowledge, very little comes out of these discussions between these “wise” men of NSW racing.
Again John let us know what your pearls of wisdom are about Canterbury and we will gladly publish them. Put your balls where your mouth is, mate.
“Damn, I should never have written in and called them fuckwits!”
BEAR HERO TO TAKE ON SEPOY?????
Connections of top Hong Kong three year old sprinter Bear Hero have rolled the dice and placed the horse in quarantine prior to flying in to Melbourne to take on champion three year old sprinter – the Darley-owned Sepoy in the Group One Danehill Stakes over 1200 metres down the Flemington straight on the first day of the famous Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival on October 29.
For trainer David Ferraris and Bear Hero’s owners it is a calculated gamble. Bear Hero is a high quality colt by the high quality sire of sprinters General Nediym, who is also one of the most successful commercial stallions standing in Australia.
“He’s a fucking champion, boys, fucking best horse I have ever fucking trained…God, I have GREAT hair…”
Being a colt, a win over Sepoy in the Danehill Stakes- or even running second to Sepoy as take him away and it’s not exactly a stellar field- a stallion-making race, would secure a stud future for Bear Hero in Australia, with a possible visit to Royal Ascot for some of their feature black type sprints, a further “carrot” to attract the interest of some of the global breeding giants.
It may sound like “pie in the sky” stuff and some will argue – and we argue about this decision amongst ourselves- that it still has much to prove in Hong Kong, but racing is made of dreams, some of which become reality, and the connections of Bear Hero are not going to die wondering.
For the record, Bear Hero’s first up second in open Class Three company behind the talented King Mossman, on the opening day of the new Hong Kong racing season at Shatin last Saturday, was impressive.
It was his first race around a bend and he was taking on the older horses at just his third race start. He missed the start by a fraction of a second and it is fair to say that King Mossman’s victory was assisted in no small measure to a brilliant ride by the genius of champion jockey Douglas Whyte.
There is little doubt that Bear Hero is all quality and connections have clearly decided that they have little if anything to lose and plenty to gain by taking Bear Hero to Flemington to take on Sepoy. And a win in the Danehill would provide a major boost for the breeding value of colts and entires racing in Hong Kong.
LEADING INDIAN TRAINERS COP STEROID BANS
It was with great interest that we read reports in racingpost.com of penalties handed down to three of India’s top trainers – Sheraz Sunderji, Cooji Katrak and Pesi Shroff after their three horses returned positives in the Indian 2000 and 1000 Guineas – two of India’s National Classics.
The winner of the 2000 Guineas, the Sunderji trained Ocean And Beyond and runner-up, the Katrak trained Star Future and 1000 Guineas third placed Eloise trained by Shroff, tested positive in post-race tests to the anabolic steroid Boldenone.
All three horses were subsequently disqualified. The three trainers were deemed to have been found guilty for their “vicarious liabilities”, according to medication rules in Indian racing and Katrak’s license suspended for 120 days, Shroff for 30 days and Sunderji (who was previously found guilty once in his career) suspended for 45 days.
Royal West India Turf Club Chairman Vivek Jain claimed in a statement “we have adhered to the rule book and past precedents. There was no clear evidence to question the trainers’ intent of administering the banned substance, but there is a clause of ‘vicarious liability’ under which the sentences have been handed out”.
According to racingpost.com, “not only were the three horses concerned among the best in India, they were trained by three of the most successful trainers”.
Further, according to an Indian racing website indiarace.com, the trainers’ maintained that the feed procured from the Royal West India Turf Club had been contaminated with the drug”.
The Stewards had however claimed that “the same feed had been given to about 200 horses and the remainder had all tested clean”.
Interestingly, similar sentiments have been expressed about contaminated feed related positives in Australia and elsewhere.
We don’t need to add much to the report except to note that Australian stewards may care to pay attention to the comments attributed to the Indian stewards when dealing with any cases involving contaminated feeds.
TWO SENIOR RACING EXECUTIVES TAKE OFF
Two of Australian racing’s key executives – Betfair CEO Andrew Twaits and Racing Victoria’s Chief Strategy Officer Paul Bittar announced this week that they are quitting their positions.
Andrew Twaits, one of the most impressive and respected senior executives in the world of racing, has announced that he is quitting Betfair after a seven year stint with the betting exchange to set up a consultancy business.
Twaits has gained universal respect for his strategic approach to many of the racing issues that have confronted Betfair, and in particular the debilitating product fee case with Racing NSW, which is the subject of the present High Court challenge.
Paul Bittar’s appointment as Chief Executive of the British Horse Racing Authority is a massive endorsement of his skills and reputation as a racing administrator.
“It wasn’t a Bittar pill to swallow. Haw haw haw!”
His appointment to one of the most prestigious global racing administration positions, will further weaken the talent pool of Australian racing administrators at a time when Australian racing can ill afford to lose someone of his calibre.
From what our English friends have told us Bittar beat a strong international field of candidates to land the position.
He had previously worked for the British Horse Racing Authority, after leaving Racing NSW (now isn’t that a surprise!), and according to our UK sources was held in high regards before leaving the UK to take up a position as CEO of New Zealand Racing, after which, we believe he was head hunted by Racing Victoria to a senior executive position and possible successor to current CEO Rob Hines.
With the upper echelons of Australian Racing devoid of any real talent the loss of both Twaits and Bittar, will leave the industry with no choice but to recruit from outside the industry for the senior positions when they become vacant.
The void must be filled. We wait with bated breath to see who steps into these two very big shoes.
THE CENTAUR STAKES,BIRDIE NUM NUM AND A JAPANESE STUFFING
We have to wonder if Caspar Fownes will ever eat sushi again. After heart-breakingly close calls with Green Birdie on two occasions in Japan, he went to the Centuar Stakes double-handed with Lucky Nine and, again, Green Birdie- both trained to perfection.
Brilliantly ridden by Brett Prebble, who thought he had won the race, Lucky Nine was nailed right on the line by Aishin Virgo.
Once again, it was a question of so-close-yet-so-far and few remember who came second in anything.
To make matters worse, Green Birdie which should have, could have won twice in Japan before, and ran a cracker of a race under Tye Angland- his first ride in Japan-to be fourth, was later to be disqualified for, apparently, causing interference.
We say, “apparently, ” as it sure didn’t look like any “interference” to many. It’s good to hear that the Japanese Rule Book will fall in line with that of Hong Kong and that Hong Kong Stewards will take their Japanese counterparts to how things should really be done.
As for riding in Japan- and knowing the strict rules about things like “interference”- is unlike anywhere else in the world.
Horses go like the clappers up front as if every race was a sprint. They come from all directions and it takes vast experience to successfully ride there. Just ask Olivier Peslier, or Gerard Mosse, or Christophe Soumillon, or Michael Kinane, Dettori etc.
Apart from Fownes and Angland, we have to feel sorry for the owners of Green Birdie: Japan and a Green Birdie Num Num simply don’t fly at all well and end up in an awful flap.
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OPEN SKIES AND A WRAY OF SUNSHINE
We can rave about the riding skills of Bossy, Hot Rodd, Craig Williams, Luke Nolan and others, but, huge props to Ms Lauri Wray for a truly brilliant winning ride in the last at Dubbo on Open Skies.
Yes, we know: Whooooooo?
The favourite for the race, Ms Wray never panicked despite being almost last and the races being conducted on a Slow 7 track.
Just as many were about to tear up their tickets, she took the horse out wide and came through to win going away. Lauri Wray knew what she was doing and we’d keep an eye on this horse.
It’s certainly no world-beater but it could be one to keep following to make a quid here and there.
Meanwhile, we’ll certainly be keeping an eye open for anything on which Lauri Wray is legged up. She can ride.
So can another of the Oz riding ranks in Michael Hellyer. Hell, yeah, his come-from-last ride of Beltone at Dooben over the weekend was a beaut as was Jordan Frew go-to-whoa ride on Great Player at Morphetville.
A win-is-a-win- anywhere- and we feel for all those we know who took the short odds on the Hugh Bowman-ridden Startreusse in the first at Rosehill.
We would have laid that horse any time of the day going with our warped “theory” of not touching any races in NSW that have small fields…which probably means keeping away from all races unless Glen Boss is riding there.
What a ride by the Bossman in the second race on the 15- to 1 shot Red Eye Special and later in the day, Jive. Pure magic.
As for horses to keep following- and some owners in Singapore and Hong Kong are already about to make some serious bids for it- there is State Of Wealth- which won at Doomben over the weekend and with jockey Ric McMahon having a lotta horse underneath him.
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QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“I feel like I’ve been gelded.” Caspar Fownes after Lucky Nine’s very unlucky second in the Centaur Stakes and Green Birdie’s disqualification.
“Too bad that Lucky Nine doesn’t have a bigger nose or this would have been the perfect day.” Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the HKJC, lamenting the very tight defeat of Lucky Nine in Japan and whose win would have capped off a great day for Hong Kong racing.
“This is the biggest boil-over since Polly put the kettle on!” Unknown race-caller in Oz after a trotter got up at over 75 to 1.
NEWNHAM GOES OUT ON A WINNING NOTE
Mark Newnham hung up his boots and saddle when he rode the Gai Waterhouse-trained Power Broker- absolutely pummeled in the betting ring- to a win with a leg in the air. What’s he to do next?
Well, we know that the popular jock has been “spotting horses” for a few bloodstock agents like Gordon “The Bear” Benson who has his “Sou Ma Tam” group of mates as buyers. He has been in Hongkers and Singapore to understand the lay of the land and what does and does not sell and to “make nice” with various owners and trainers.
Now, we understand that he would like to take this part-time job to a full-time career. It’s going to be tough, but far more exciting than riding mostly donkeys at places like Kembla and Newcastle.
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