Like our lives, with anything, there is a need to know where something or someone has come from to understand why and where they are what they are today.
It’s like Alex Hailey’s Roots or a Family Tree and for the HKJC what a Hunter S Thompson-type of long and dark journey it’s been mixed with Bette Davis warning, “Fasten your seat belts, there’s a bumpy ride ahead” and lighter moments from that very underrated racing movie, Let It Ride.
Before the start of the new season, the Hong Kong riding ranks looked to be on the thinning side- like when you have more hair in your ears than on your head- and a bit tired with no “star power” and nothing new on the horizon except for more of the same.
On top of this, Brett Prebble was to miss three months of the season riding in Australia- good news for many out here- Gerard Mosse was still riding in Europe and Richard Fourie, who went from an unknown to one of the more popular riders with the fickle local racing public, returned to South Africa after receiving an offer he couldn’t refuse.
The three new jockeys granted short-term licenses were hardly household names which meant that we were back to the old firm of Douglas Whyte, Zac Purton, Matthew Chadwick, Olivier Doleuze, and Weichong Marwing.
Before even the season started, there was talk about one of the new boys- a South African who had ridden in Mauritius named Karis Teetan.
Talk is cheap and as action speaks far louder than words, Teetan hit the ground running by winning the first race of the new season. He had arrived.
It hasn’t stopped there either with the rider averaging a winner each meeting and, today, Karis Teetan is one of the most in-demand jockeys in town.
Meanwhile, Mosse is already back, Prebble is back soon as will the popular young Italian Umberto Rispoli, below, and an encore to these shores from French whiz kid Maxime Guyon.
The Chinese racing fans love their European riders and are very forgiving even when they put on some merde displays.
However, the real coup for Hong Kong racing has been the arrival of Brazilian Joao Moreira, dubbed The Magic Man when he was a one man show in Singapore for many seasons.
Moreira has brought real star power and marquee value to Hong Kong’s riding ranks.
Local racing fans have very strong likes and dislikes and, as mentioned, have always warmed to riders from, but not to most jockeys from Australia.
Glen Boss, Craig Williams, Dwayne Dunn, Corey Brown, Damien Oliver and others who have come and gone, never gained the popularity they have back home.
Apart from, possibly, finding riding against so many jockeys from around the world difficult and let’s be polite and also put it down to “historical problems”.
This was when Aussie jockeys and trainers ruled and ran Hong Kong racing- Peter Miers, Ray Setches, Peter Gumbleton, Leon Fox, Glyn Pretty, David Brosnan, Gary Moore and trainers like Bob Burns, Cliff Robertson and Rod Turvey.
With hugely popular Chinese racing personality Tung Biu banging his table during his post-race analysis on his television show while Carlos Wu played the straight man, this former track rider talked openly about “Australian gangs” and relished slowing down film and showing his legion of viewers where his idea of a “riding rort” took place.
Actually, he banged the “guilty areas” with a cane like a demented Mr Chips to the faithful in his Dead Poets Society.
Whether right or wrong, viewers believed him and talk of “Australian gangs” had begun- and was to last a very long time.
There was also his very public war with Peter Miers, a brilliant jockey when in the mood, and very weird Aussie racing journo John Hardie, a fawning Moore family groupie whose headline of “Tony Cruz is not the greatest thing since chow fan” in the STAR is still talked about.
Gary Moore’s role in the so-called Shanghai Syndicate case and his about-turn to give evidence for the prosecution in exchange for immunity, spelt the end for Hardie, “Australian gangs” and made a folk hero out of Tung Biu.
It was also curtains on a very bad chapter of Hong Kong racing which saw top bloke David Brosnan taking the rap for everyone else connected with this “Shanghai Syndicate” that had nothing much Shanghainese about it except perhaps for some dumplings during “the syndicate’s” weekly meetings.
Thinking back, apart from a young Tony Cruz, Tung Biu- and, my how he is missed as he was brilliant television- trusted and liked very few in racing.
He tried being a trainer in Macau, but walked out in disgust when seeing what was going on and how the powers-that-be wanted then-champion jockey over there- our great mate Johnny Didham- out- because he tried too hard to win. Yes, you read that correctly.
It’s quite amazing that Tung Biu was never (successfully) sued or beaten up- but, then again, also being an actor, and mixing with the underworld, “Uncle” Bill had protection and knew how to look after himself.
Apart from the mystery “suicide” of professional Aussie punter and bon vivant Michael Bastion, all was quiet until the arrest of jockey Chris Munce in the “Tips For Money” case along with the resulting fallout when head of Racing NSW- Peter V’landys- tried to play a bad game of poker with the wrong person- Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the HKJC.
This was probably the straw that broke the fragile camel’s back and also really tightened the security screws and locked out the undesirables who were very well known for selling tips from certain visiting Aussie jockeys apparently wanting $100,000 put on their rides.
Those who don’t live in Hong Kong and don’t know the very colorful history of racing during its colonial and post-colonial days saying that racing here “succeeds despite itself”, don’t get it nor appreciate just how difficult it has been to ring in changes and say, Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead.
Understanding what once was part and parcel of the sport and to see where racing in Hong Kong is today is like someone has taken a bulldozer, got rid of the rubbish, and to paraphrase songwriter Joni Mitchell, paved paradise and put up a brand new and expensive parking lot.
This bulldozer effect has seen the Hong Kong Jockey Club become the blueprint for every other racing club in the world- ultra-successful, innovative, the only real link to Mainland China and where International racing takes place every race meeting.
Yes, it’s been a long and weird trip from the amateur days of Marcel Samarq and Kenny Kwok, the reign of Cheng Tai-chee, the antics of colorful trainers Brian Kan, Ng Chi-lam, Wong Tang-ping and Ivan Allan, the adventures on and off the track of Kinane and Fallon, the squiring techniques of our great mate Brent Thompson, everything that happened at The Champagne Bar plus all of the Through The Past Darkly to the racing Hong Kong is privileged to enjoy at Happy Valley and Shatin.
Of course, as in any business, there is more work to be done along with changing mindsets too set in their ways and unwilling or unable to see the forest for the trees.
Not even these bumps in the road can halt progress and the global evolution of what was once purely a Hong Kong brand.
And the HKJC is a global brand-a very successful global brand with a portfolio of strong assets and far more to be added that will take Hong Kong racing into the next era and be the catalyst for change.
Joao Moreira opening his account by winning the last race today and clinching the Jockey Challenge in the progress are the type of fairy tale endings- and openings- that are giving the HKJC an edge that is happening naturally- and holistically- like, yes, magic.