“What you have is a United Colours Of Benetton poster”.
That’s how someone on the periphery of horse racing described to us over a freewheeling lunch last week what Hong Kong has- a truly international fraternity of jockeys and trainers that includes Australians, South Africans, French, Italians, a Mauritian, an Irishman, a Belgian, and, of course, the local talent.
It almost sounded like the start of a joke: What happens when some Aussies, South Africans, a Frenchman, a Mauritian, a Belgian waffle, and an Irishman walk into a bar?
The HKJC hosts the International Jockey Challenge every December, yet Hong Kong has an “International challenge” every race day that includes trainers- and, more and more, equine talent from different parts of the world.
It’s a United Nations of Racing out there and one of these “internationals” is Karis Teetan aka “The Mauritian Magician”, who arrived in Hong Kong last season a complete unknown- someone asked, “There’s a Paris Teetan riding? She hot?”- and as a “replacement” for Richard Fourie, who, after one very impressive season, received an offer he couldn’t refuse back home in South Africa, and rode off into Jonty Rhodes country.
Paris Hilton, silly rich bitch
Karis Teetan, hard working Mauritian jockey
Teetan hit the ground running by winning the first race of last season with his first ride in Hong Kong.
It was on Amazing Always for trainer David Ferraris, who, for a few nanu seconds, became leading trainer, and basked in the limelight of that wonderful and managed a rare smile. It was weird, man.
What Big Teets accomplished last season, very few new jockeys to the city’s ultra-competitive racing scene have achieved: Get off to a flyer like that unless their name is Joao Moreira. Or Usain Bolt.
The young Mauritian was rewarded for his efforts by receiving rides from almost every stable- and winning for them- Able Friend for John Moore, stealing a race on David Hall’s Bubble Chic, below, while others in the race were riding like Noddy and Big Ears in Toyland, and building up a strong partnership with Tony Millard.
In a recent interview in South Africa where he’s been riding- and winning- Karis Teetan was asked about life and racing in Hong Kong.
What came through was humility, his respect for his fellow jockeys, and being grateful to be riding in Hong Kong.
He was not blowing smoke up anyone’s arse, nor was he trying to be a smart arse, and ending up shooting himself in the foot with a Gatling gun.
He was- and is- likeable.
Humility goes a long way, and the likability factor is paramount in gaining the support of trainers, owners and the Chinese racing media, where the line, “Diuuuuu, I no like his face” is heard often. It’s lost trainers and jockeys horses and rides. It’s how Hong Kong rolls.
Looking at the season ahead, apart from the Axis Of Egoiste comprising Joao Moreira, Douglas Whyte and Zac Purton, Karis Teetan could be the jockey to follow when the new racing season starts up next month along with Nash Rawiller.
With word that trainer Tony Millard has some very good new horses waiting in the wings, it remains to be seen if Teetan gets on them.
And, why not? The Mauritian has consistently delivered for the South African- a tough task master, who has had very public implosions and fallouts with Whyte and Purton- and before that, Maxime Guyon, the one-time whiz kid from France, who seems to have had his own implosion, career wise.
Ka-boom, mon petit choux. Merde happens.
Teetan, aside, Nash Rawiller, who’s been enjoying success riding in Japan for the past few months, won’t let this opportunity to ride in Hong Kong as a licensed jockey slip by.
“The Gnasher” is what they call a “punishing jockey”- tough and very strong in a finish- and when riding in Sydney, many followed only two riders- him and Hughie Bowman- both having produced some outstanding finishes whenever they met.
Where will “The Gnasher” receive the most support?
I’m tipping John Moore, who is always quick to get off the blocks at the start of every season. And if he does the same this season, and Rawiller is on the receiving end of rides from the stable, the jockey could be up there on the leader board in double-quick time.
Of the new boys announced, one has to wonder if Andrea Atzeni might be a no-show.
Friday’s announcement that he will replace Jamie Spencer as the number one rider for powerful Sheikh Fahad al-Thani’s Quatar Racing might have scuppered plans to have the brilliant young Italian ride in Hong Kong for a full season.
In fact, that plan could be DOA.
As for The Axis Of Egoiste, well, Zac Purton, with his considerable, god-given talent, his supreme confidence in himself, plus the same stable support he received last season that helped him win his first Hong Kong Jockey Championship, will continue from where he left off whereas no one can ever be sure what rabbits and rare bits Dougie Whyte has up his sleeve.
Whyte, the consummate professional, hasn’t won thirteen consecutive Jockey Championships sitting on his backside sipping Louis Roederer’s “Christal” champagne aboard The Good Ship Lollipop screaming, “I am the King of the Racing World” and dancing to “Baby I’m A Rich Man”.
He talks softly and carries a big stick, and that old Whyte magic will be working overtime this season and is sure to have many in its spell.
The wild card in the pack- and The Joker- is, of course, Joao Moreira aka The Magic Man aka The Smiling Assasin.
Has he played the HKJC on a dime by negotiating a six month contract for himself with the cards heavily stacked in his favour and him holding all the aces in the way of career options?
Time will tell, but it shows that The Magic Man is also a smooth operator with very persuasive negotiating skills.
No one can blame the superb Brazilian jockey for being offered this rarefied and privileged offer as he did what any other jockey with his bargaining power might have done. Maybe.
After all, looking back, Moreira had the Hong Kong racing fraternity eating from the palm of his hand- trainers, owners, the racing media and many racing executives.
He had designs on everything and was a Brazilian ABBA song singing, “The Winner Takes It All”.
The Magic Man hype and cult was in overdrive from the day Hong Kong racing scored that coup of managing to attract Moreira here in October of last season- and so soon after riding all eight winners in an eight race card in Singapore.
The way he took off here- like Speedy Gonzales on monkey glands- and with the immediate and massive support he received- the Jockey Championship seemed to be in the bag. His.
This wasn’t to be, but the honeymoon period never waned even when it was obvious that, with all the suspensions, there wasn’t a ghost of a chance of him winning the Jockey Premiership.
Though those early days of booting home trebles and quadruples dried up, and red hot favourites flopped, he was still voted Most Popular Jockey. It’s that likability factor again.
How long Moreira will stay here is the $64,000 question- and, if not, what Out Clause will be used? And whether the HKJC will allow the tail to wag the dog.
With the new season also being the 130th Anniversary of the HKJC, some expected, and other, perhaps, more unexpected “transitional changes” on an operational level could well be in the offing, whereas on the racing side of the track, it promises to be the most competitive it’s been in a long time.
The increase in prize money will certainly play a very significant role in “the Big Owners playpen and box”- the new and established- and the ways in which new racing syndicates come into being plus how they are able to evolve.
Of course, the jockeying involved to be associated with the best horses will continue as always as that’s where the honour and money is.
But, like Best Practise exercises, having those “best horses” must come first.
In the John Moore-trained Able Friend, below, and Designs On Rome, Hong Kong has two world class gallopers.
The question now is where and how to double, or even Jeanne Tripplehorn this number while wondering what a big-spending owner like Pan Sutong might bring to the table- and the Richard Gibson yard- this season.
This will be the season that separates the men from the boys- and in all aspects of racing- as the stakes have been raised, and where Hong Kong, which is in a class of its own, raises the bar- again- by improving, refining and re-defining its own lofty standards through its variety of products.
It’s a tough job and one which only the Hong Kong Jockey Club has been able to successfully manage to do for over a decade through constantly evolving and enhancing its product- on and off-course.
On that note, let’s drink to what lies ahead- and celebrate 130 years of history of Hong Kong, this city many of us call home.