When racing in Macau first started- and even a number of years after that- it attracted a number of well-known Hong Kong owners and racing personalities to what was then a Portuguese enclave.
In those early days, the trainers and jockeys ranks were made up of some good talent- jockeys like Declan Murphy, Danny Brereton, Claude Piccione, the brilliant Frenchman William Mongil, Englishman Tony Ives, Aussies and Kiwis Geoff Allendorf, Peter Leyshan, Bobby Vance, Craig Robertson, Neil Paine, Rob Heffernan, Bernadette Cooper, Christian Reith, Danny Beasley, Michael Cahill, Brent Thomson, Gary Moore, Johnny Didham and others- plus the talented but wayward Colin Dean.
The ups and downs of Colin Dean is what stuff of movies are made of- his days in Macau riding for Singaporean Charles Leck, his close call riding in India, his personal life and the downward spiral of someone who was a very talented jockey and now seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth.
Trainers included George Moore, Charles Leck, Johnny Roe, Joe Murphy, Nigel Tiley, Joe Barnes, Gordon “The Bear” Benson, Johnny “The Whale” Gilmore, Malcolm Thwaites etc plus the horse flesh, the facilities and the racing was pretty good.
Sure, there were always orders coming “from the top” with the Club’s shifty looking Kenneth Liang watching over everything going on and days when the tote would change even when heads were turned for home.
Still, we would shrug our shoulders and return every week looking forward to lunch at Fernando’s on a Friday, races on Saturday, then hitting the Irish Bar or the Taipa Hyatt Regency before making plans for what was always a good night out.
Some of us were never short of having owners and “friends” with tattoos wanting to ensure we had a great time. Who were we to argue?
Macau was not good for marriages. It was worse for those who were married and lived there and was very different to the casino-driven place it is today.
In those days, it was this weird mixture of Peyton Place, Desperate Housewives, Little Russia and Discovery Bay.
Going over to Macau and running into Wadey, Parkey, Tony Morias and other colorful characters from Hong Kong in the hotel bars and escort clubs always resulted in the original version of The Hangover.
They were great times and nothing taken too seriously even though there were some very sad endings to great mates. Feelings were comfortably numbed.
Today, going over for racing in Macau is nothing like what it was.
When the outspoken Hong Kong racing personality Tung Biu was granted a token trainer’s license, gave it a try and then quit in disgust over what he saw, the signs that the MJC was going tits up were clear.
One thing about “Uncle” Bill was that he didn’t suffer fools gladly and called things how he saw them.
Today, crowds have dwindled, the ownership of horses is a mystery, many of the horses are Hong Kong rejects, the tote is tiny, there are simultaneous broadcasts of racing from Malaysia and men and women on mobile phones make their bets under signs that scream out, No Mobile Phones Allowed.
The security guards act like Manuel from Fawlty Towers: I know NUTTIN.
Jockeys have come and gone with the most well-known and successful trainers being Gary Moore and MC Tam- and what a weird story lies there.
On Saturday, Macau comes to Shatin as the first part of the annual Interport series in the shape of the Hong Kong Macau Trophy.
This year, Macau will be represented by Good Uncle, Dr.Sweet and Absolutely Win, all trained by Gary Moore, MC Tam’s Lucky Jai with Manuel Nunes aboard and Stephen Chow’s Wealthy Man to be ridden by Luis Corrales.
All eyes will be on Gary Moore, still very well known in Hong Kong, incredibly popular with some and quite mad and unpredictable- but that has always been Brother Gary.
He might wear, do and say the weirdest things, but we like him.
He has been consistently mad and is something like the Peter Pan of racing, the youngest son of the legendary George Moore- a tough taskmaster- once a champion jockey, who has really seen the ups and downs of racing.
Today, word is that he has an owner in Macau who is prepared to pay AUS$1m for the galloper Happy Galaxy currently with John Hawkes.
Truth or fiction?
It doesn’t matter either way. It’s all part of Gary Moore folklore.
As for Saturday’s race, who will win?
Well, not knowing anything about the Macau horses, all we know is that Hong Kong is represented by Happy Era,Solar Great, Keen Marie, Let Me Handle It and seems to hold the stronger hand.
Having said this, let’s not forget how Gary Moore pulled off a 100 to 1 win a few years ago in Hong Kong with a horse ridden by “Fred” Durso.
Well, Durso, the jockey who has lasted longest in Macau, is back aboard Brother Gary’s Absolutely Win.
With rain predicted over the next few days, upsets could well be the order of the day on Saturday.
And if Gary Moore were to win, well, we’ll see a performance straight outta The Rocky Horror Show.