While the pro-CY Leung protesters were clashing with the anti-CY Leung protesting with many doth protesteth too much about Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive and his illegal structures, over 60, 000 others had got their priorities right: They were at Shatin attending the first race meeting of 2013.
What is quite amazing with this number is that it is the highest since 1999- yes, 1999- and when there weren’t apps and saps and ‘live’ coverage of the races in all the betting shops.
Though attendances are very nice, turnover topped HK$1.3 BILLION with local punters putting their money where their favorite racing stars are and wanting the new year to start off on a winning note.
If only those protesters wasting their time and trying to fight windmills with Don Quixote-like dreams had got their priorities right, they would have seen the REAL Hong Kong and what makes Hong Kong tick, tock, rock, roll and reel and where the various multi-million dollar jackpots on exotic bets were attacked with a vengeance and with the lucky ones leaving the track as instant millionaires.
Aussie racing pundits like Ritchie Callander and others who pontificate about Hong Kong racing while being stuffed by the dreaded Tall Poppy Syndrome or having smoked it and mixed with a very parochial view of the global world view of racing, need to get out more and see and understand the paradigm shift that has happened and is happening- in Hong Kong and across the border when it comes to racing, power and money. Forget the speed maps, Good Ba Ba etc. They are not a priority.
The backyards in Sydney and Melbourne are lacking leadership, vision, turnover, attendance figures, integrity and are in desperate need of complete confident overhauls which the Callanders of this world either cannot see or refuse to see. Ignorance is bliss.
Ritchie, mate, I respect everything you do for charities, but you need to understand why we are still watching that space you asked us to watch regarding your ” exclusive” that Brett Prebble was giving up Hongkers and returning to Oz. Puhleeze!
What for? He now has the best of all worlds. Same with Zac Purton, without a doubt the best jockey in the world right now due to his god-given talent and five years of riding and learning in the most competitive racing environment in the world- and the most INTERNATIONAL and which is what attracts local punters.
These are punters who have grown up hearing the chants of Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! for too long and have heard about the days when Peter Miers and Bob Burns ran Hong Kong racing with their various “Aussie gangs” and the others who followed the “guidelines” that had been set by their “forefathers”.
Racing in Hong Kong was crooked as hell and as well choreographed as The Rockettes and this stigma still exists today.
There are many in Hong Kong with long memories and which is why some owners, even today, will never put an Aussie jockey on their horses or give their horses to an Aussie trainer.
What about John Moore? He is seen as being as local as Tony Cruz and Caspar Fownes and is well accepted just as Richard Gibson being granted a trainer’s license was a great move. It all adds to the “Internationalism” of Hong Kong racing and which is watched with pride across the border and where the future lies. Geddit, Ritchie?
The combination of John Size and South African Dougie Whyte has clicked with local punters as it’s “international” whereas the combination of Aussies Brett Prebble and David Hall never has and, rightly or wrongly, never will. Local punters see that combination and shudder. It’s nothing personal, it’s just business- and a matter of confidence.
This is also one reason that despite their talent and successes, Prebble and Craig Williams have never been popular with the local racing media who have so much clout.
Owners read what they write, their mates read what is written and even if it’s all absolute bollocks, it has an impact on rides and careers in Hong Kong.
The racing pages of Apple Daily and Sing Tao with their high circulation figures are all powerful and the racing equivalent of the gossip that fills TMZ and Perez Hilton when it comes to showbiz.
Apart from his incredible winning streak- in Hong Kong and also the UK and Japan- Zac Purton has won over Chinese punters and the Chinese media. They love the guy and his regular Zac Attacks. Dougie Whyte is no longer flavor of the day but this could change overnight. It’s a fickle pickle jar out there.
Somehow, Zac Purton has managed to change the local racing fan’s old-fashioned perception of “The Aussie Jockey” and is now right up there in POPULARITY with new and hardcore race-goers and which MUST go hand in hand with riding winners- and for a variety of local trainers who have the ear of local racing journos.
The legendary Ivan Allen, the infamous Brian Kan and a few others changed the training and riding ranks in Hong Kong by bringing in riders like Bart Leisher, below, Basil Marcus, Felix Coetzee and Dougie Whyte, all from South Africa.
They and jockeys like the enigmatic and brilliant- when in the mood- Frenchman Eric Saint Martin, below, a much younger Gerard Mosse, Philippe Paquet and a short stint by American legend Gary Stevens changed the face of Hong Kong racing forever.
It is this International face, all these different styles of riding, all these different nationalities competing together which is what attracts over 60,000 people to the races. It’s what also gives them the confidence to bet over HK$1.3 BILLION on eleven races.
Hong Kong racing has been cleaned up since those Dirty Dozen days of the Seventies and when local racing personality Tung Biu had his very public wars with Peter Miers, in particular, and Aussie jockeys, in general.
Today, Hong Kong is the envy of the racing world and the reason is very simple: As I have now banged on for ages, Hong Kong racing means an International race meeting every day and, quite incredibly, with the HKJC being led by a German. I won’t mention his name in case of being called “sycophantic” again by those who forget how small Hong Kong is. And he laughed like Heath Ledger did as The Joker.
Frankly, a day or night at the races in Shatin or Happy Valley is what makes Hong Kong Asia’s World City and gives this cosmopolitan city a real USP.
It is a brand personality that must be marketed with great creativity and with local racing fans having some pride and sense of ownership.
And, oh, yes, this must all happen with no looking back and zero tolerance for parochial thinking and jingoism. It’s onwards and upwards like an International World Cup team and following the One Country, Two Systems approach.