Like Sting lecturing us mere mortals on the benefits of Tantric Sex, the buildup to Longines and the Hong Kong Jockey Club International Races had been long and steady.
After months of talking, the horses arrived, and track watchers came back with different news everyday.
It was more confusing than helpful and, there were those days when we got on top of Silver- and, sometimes, Tonto- and rode away when we saw them appearing with their “daily mail”.
Meanwhile, the overseas media arrived- so did the usual buffetload of freeloaders and legends in their own lunchtime- while the International Hong Kong Jockeys Challenge, which attracted American legends Gary Stevens and Mike Smith, was won by Kerrin McEvoy on a wonderfully successful Happy Wednesday night.
One would think that the door to riding in Hong Kong has opened widely for the affable McEvoy if he ever thought of heading out this way and to new pastures.
Meanwhile, the barrier draws were drawn- some trainers liked it “more in than out”, others preferred it, “more out than in”- the annual Gala Dinner was the polite affair it’s always been, but this was the day the racing world had come to Hong Kong to celebrate- together.
And what a cast had been assembled: Lord Kanaloa, Moonlight Cloud, Sky Lantern, Mount Athos, Red Cadeaux, Hong Kong’s equine stars Military Attack, Dominant and Akeed Mofeed, The Fugue, the improving Ebiyza, Simenon, Side Glance and Dunaden.
There were the riders- Christophe Soumillon, Richard Hughes, Christophe Lemaire, Ryan Moore, Damien Oliver, Gerard Mosse, Zac Purton, Douglas Whyte, Tommy Berry, William Buick, Jeremy Spencer- and the marquee-value trainers- the legend that is Alain de Royer Dupre, Ed Dunlop, Richard Gibson, John Moore, John Gosden, Luca Cumani, the great Freddie Head, Mikel Delzangles and Andrew Balding.
Looking on anxiously over their million dollar equine babies were the owners while waiting for The Charge Of The Light Brigade to start were the throng of over sixty thousand spectators who had come to cheer on the champions, yes, but just as interested in the support card and winning any of the exotics bets.
One can’t all own million dollar babies. Reality bites and winning the Triple Trio or Six Up Bonus were, probably, more important to the average local punter- but the pride in having Hong Kong host a world class event such as this was evident.
These days, the people of Hong Kong don’t have much to be proud of as they watch the city’s Chief Executive and his hand-picked cronies bumble their way from one problem to the next with no light at the end of the tunnel- just an oncoming runaway train.
Thank gawd for events like Hong Kong International Day. The city needs some positivity and, without telling sponsor Longines how to market their brand, this pride of ownership is something key to understand- and utilize.
After quite a few having a very frustrating time trying to place bets via telebet- all lines were busy for over an hour- at 12.25pm, the barriers opened and they were off in Race 1 with another thrilling photo finish between Hong Kong racing’s Batman and Robin- Zac Purton and Tye Angland.
The battle was won by The Zac Attack on Paul O’Sullivan’s Aerovelocity before Dougie Whyte struck in Race 2 on the very classy John Moore-trained Flagship Shine.
Away from the racing, what was interesting was meeting the team from Tencent, China’s Internet giant, that are moving quickly into the mobile gaming business.
Tencent has already created five-apps and look set to create and own the Rights to a number of horse racing-inspired games for mobile phone users. Another Angry Birds? Could well be.
The team wasn’t at Shatin to really watch the races- but more to “study” the local race-goers and the company’s plans in this business area should be interesting- and food for thought for the HKJC.
Back to the races, and after Tommy Berry guided John Moore’s Let Me Go to victory, it was time for the Longines Group 1 Hong Kong Vase with the Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber-owned The Fugue installed the favorite in what looked like quite a confusing race- made even more confusing with all the “mail.”
Well, The Fugue ran a decent enough race to come second, Red Cadeaux was given way too much to do, the Luca Cumani-trained Mount Athos disappointed- though seeing Lady Francesca in the parade ring had us shaken and stirred in a most pleasant manner- and Dunaden ran well to come third, but nothing could match the dominance of Hong Kong’s Dominant.
The third winner on the trot for trainer John Moore, it was a fabulously dominant ride by Zac Purton, certainly the best rider in the world today.
It was interesting to watch The Zac Attack during his post-race interview. It was as if he had not ridden in the 2400 metre race. There was zero girlie man huffing and puffing. He looked as cool as the Old Spice Man.
With all eyes on Japan’s champion sprinter Lord Kanaola and high hopes for Hong Kong’s Lucky Nine and Frederick Engels in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint, the 39-year old Iwata- a really good bloke- rode like a jockey possessed by the spirit of Hopalong Cassidy and the Japanese raider absolutely DEMOLISHED the field.
It was a breathtaking win to watch, and there must be some heartbroken horses after suffering a defeat that inglorious. Good grief, My Sweet Lord! What a stud, you are!
After John Moore trained the trifecta in Race 6 with Tommy Berry making it look all so easy aboard Able Friend, it was time for The Longines Hong Kong Mile and many wanting to see if Europe’s highest-rated filly, Moonlight Cloud, could live up to its hype.
Sadly, it didn’t, but what a training performance by John Size to bring that forgotten horse- Glorious Day- back to the future- and today- and provide him and regular partner Douglas Whyte with a Group 1 winner.
It was a very well mapped-out plan by John Size and a great ride by Dougie Whyte. The result? A Glorious Day- and another win for Hong Kong.
If anyone might have been thinking that Dougie Whyte is “passed it”, well, think again as the great South African jockey also took out the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup aboard extremely powerful owner Pan Sutong’s Akeed Mofeed which was primed for this day by Richard Gibson.
And what a wonderful and self-effacing tribute to the jockey by the very hoarse trainer after the race? Why not?
It took every grey cell in Whyte’s noggin to get away from the inside with the Japanese horse laying in on him and then had to get outta a bad serving of being the meat in the sandwich.
Now, Do The Dougie!
After getting a bit of a scare thinking that Sean Woods might be riding in race nine, the last two races ended predictably enough, the stars came out for the shutterbugs, fireworks went off and off we all headed to either the Champagne Bar or The Blue Bar for some, well, er, lubrication with a different kind of lubrication planned for later in the night.
At the end of the day, Longines Hong Kong International Races and this entire week was much more than another racing carnival.
Like one of those classic Benetton ads, it was a melting pot of nationalities coming together as one and shining through like some United Colors Of Racing.
Nelson Mandela must have been looking down at Shatin and smiling at what he saw.