NEIL CALLAN IS NO DONKEY
He’s a bit like a combination of The Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro, but the emergence of Neil Callan to be one of the top riders in Hong Kong has surprised many- but, one doubts, it has caught the Irishman unawares.
Today, Callan sits third- or, as he pronounces it, “turd”- on the Jockeys leaderboard after a double at the Valley on Wednesday where he also took out the Jockey Challenge.
As Hunter S Thompson would have written, What a strange, weird trip it’s been for Neil “Paddy” Callan aka “Donkey” who first came out to Hong Kong on the recommendation of that loveable rogue- fellow Irish jockey Johnny Egan- to test the waters four years ago. He then deputised for an indisposed rider in a HK International Jockey Challenge that led him to stay on a bit longer, a nine month stint last season, plus, of course, his first full season this year.
There has also been the time he “did a Rocky” by fighting City Hall and winning his appeal against an eighteen meeting suspension for careless riding which, as, perhaps, just perhaps, hell hath no fury like Stipes scorned, led to a spate of other careless riding charges that he copped on the chin. Why push one’s luck and take on City Hall again?
Copping things on the chin and not allowing things to niggle at him- and a grand sense of humour- is what has probably made Callan sneak up on many and be counted. He bounces back like a leprechaun doing the jig of love.
There was that time, especially after winning on Straight Gold at 8′s in a shrewd betting coup where he looked set to be part of Team Moore. But as many jockeys will tell you, the Cups King marches to the beat of his own Charley Watts and everyone is a disposable Rolling Stone.
Again, Callan took it on the chin, moved on, and went after those rides that he felt suited his riding style. After losing the ride on Moore’s Dan Excel, he made himself available to all trainers and focused his attention on getting aboard Blazing Speed from the Tony Cruz yard, which, at the time was the regular ride of Mirco Demuro. If at first you don’t succeed, you try, try and try again, and after much knocking on the door, Cruz opened up that opportunity. It was a win-win situation for all- trainer, jockey, the owners and the versatile galloper- when Blazing Speed first won the Group 1 Hong Kong Champions And Chater Cup this season and then, last Sunday, took out the Longines Jockey Club Cup.
Why has Neil Callan succeeded here when many other English jockeys have failed- though Irish lads- we won’t mention the weird Jimmy Quinn-Brian Kan marriage of inconvenience- like Michael Kinane and Kieran Fallon have been huge successes? A combination of persistence, adaptability, a strong and getting stronger support system from a number of different stables, and that will to win. The Chinese racing media are now talking him up as a jockey with a never-say-die attitude. They respect triers, reliability and consistency. The association with Ricky Yiu, who has always had some very good horses in his ranks, especially in the sprinting ranks, and, of course, Tony Cruz Superstar hasn’t hurt either. As far as the local media is concerned, the former champion jockey-turned-trainer can Moonwalk on water. When Tony Cruz Superstar endorses a jockey, that rider has made it in Hong Kong, man. Oh yeah, man, baby and women and children first.
Ask Callan about riding in Hong Kong and he has nothing but praise for the place. He’s grateful for the opportunity of a Renaissance period to a career that one remembers was peaking in the UK around 2007 and when he rode Pressing to win the Premio Roma in Italy.
Pronouncing “think” as “tink”, Callan say, “I think riding here has made me a better jockey as far as balance goes. It has made me mentally sharper. As we ride here twice a week, I have the time to think through things and do more homework for every meeting than if I had to ride every day of the week back in the UK.”
The big question is, of course, why he’s nicknamed “Donkey.” “I’ll leave you to work than one out”, he replies. Guess we won’t have to “tink” too hard about that one.
THE MAGIC OF MOREIRA
Yes, he was called “Ghost” at one time when riding in Brazil for popping up during a race from out of nowhere before becoming Singapore’s “Magic Man” for doing what no other jockey had ever done before in the Lion City whereas, now in Hong Kong, Joao Moreira has quickly become the most popular- and charismatic- racing personality- ever.
The Brazilian’s talent as a rider is a given- and we have all seen some brilliant horsemen in our time.
What adds to that Moreira Magic is his likability- the uncanny ability to win people over and a razor sharp mind that can take on any questions thrown his way- with that now well-known disarming smile- and a unique combination of being extremely focused on his job, but making what he does so well appear fun, entertaining and something everyone can enjoy.
Racing clubs are constantly thinking of new ways to attract that younger customer and ways to introduce the sport to a new audience. Well, the HKJC has all this in one Made In Brazil package as we discovered when trying to throw him for a loop with a few left field questions about the John Moore-trained Able Friend, his ride in the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile on December 14. Watch and prepare to be bowled over.
THE INSIDE TRACK
BLAZING SPEED, BLAZING SADDLES, BLAZING LEGAL GUNS!
We don’t know why, but the current legal dispute over a supposed HK$800,000 in prize money between one member of the Flying Elite Syndicate- owners of recent Jockey Club Cup winner Blazing Speed- against five fellow owners reminds us of the campfire scene in “Blazing Saddles”. It’s getting rather loud in flatulence.
One of the defendants is Norman Stradmoor who also owns the Caspar Fownes-trained Family Interests along with the very well-known Tony Stradmore. We don’t know if he still does or both do, but the Stradmoor’s once raced a number of horses in Macau that were with the MC Tam yard. Speaking of which, MC’s son has a small share in the very popular and highly recommended hip new Italian restaurant NOM- Not Only Meatballs.
As for the case of the Blazing Saddles, let’s hope it’s resolved amicably as, if not, a rude shock might explode in the face of many. One joins these racing syndicates as friends and to have fun racing a horse and make some money along the way- not to end up squabbling in court- and perhaps even ending up with egg on your face.
SEAN WOODS, VET???
“I could have had two tonight if they hadn’t taken him out.” This was the lament of trainer Sean Woods after his galloper Sky Far was scratched prior to the running of Race 3 at Happy Valley on Wednesday with a lameness issue. From what we know, jockey Douglas Whyte, a very experienced and astute horseman, didn’t think the horse felt right and did the right thing by bringing this matter up. After a vets test, Sky Far was Far Out, man. Woods, on four winners for the season, apparently disagreed with the decision of jockey, vets and Stewards. Come on, Sean, Sky Far? Winning Race 3? Take it easy on the Kool-Aid, bud. and try and get a win outta poor old Autumn Gold.
Still with Wednesday, did The Gnasher- Nash Rawiller- really deserve a three-day suspension for his ride on Dragon?
We don’t think so and, forgetting us, neither do a number of far better qualified judges. The way things are going for the rider with suspension after suspension, we honestly don’t know why he doesn’t just put his hands in the air, say, “I give up”, and return to Sydney, country home comforts and do what he does best- ride horses to win.
WHERE’S THE ADRENALINE GONE?
“Betterment” is one of those strange HKJCisms one sees bandied about, which is as perplexing as “Racing For Charity”. “Betterment” better come into play extremely quickly at Adrenaline, a wonderful venue, but truly needing “betterment”. The atrocious sound system for ‘live’ music apart, the entire atmosphere has been allowed to disintegrate into what sounds like a dim sum hall overrun by farmers from Taipo.
On Wednesday night, there was a new emcee with one of the most cloying voices heard in many a full moon screeching to some very strange participants to play one of those cornball “games” no one watches. And on what was the second week of a Japanese promotion with kimono-clad waitresses making the rounds, piped in were the bossa nova sounds of “The Girl From Ipanema” by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Astrid Gilberto. Huh? On repeat. Huh? Bossa Nova music to enhance a Japanese promotion?
It was enough for two rather attractive groups of ladies to flee the venue screaming, “Uncool! Uncool!”
Meanwhile, all was not cool at the venue’s Japanese buffet table- conspicuously absent in sushi and sashimi- where, for $400, on offer was some salmon, Brussels sprouts and a “Japanese” chicken dish that was tough as old boots.
Adrenaline has so much going for it- an incredible view of the course, a great upstairs area, but with not much thought put into it and sporadic ‘live’ music that is stopped for more inane TVB Jade-type “games”, and a downstairs area that once attracted a great cross-section of International customers.
Where things are wobbling off the board is in having no clear cut strategy to appeal to a more upwardly mobile international customer segment- think Sevva or dragon-i without the House beats-who are still relatively new to racing and cash-rich as opposed to throwing everything against the wall and hoping something sticks. Nothing, sadly, does at the moment as this is what results with any venue anywhere run on auto pilot and managed by those who don’t bother to see the big new world outside the apartment.
Adrenaline remains a loud, over-priced dim sum hall in fake Chanel clothing and a lost brand and venue. Pity. It CAN, however, be salvaged. And must. Adrenaline should be the flagship venue for Happy Valley Racecourse and a great alternative to the young and more informal Beer Garden. And it can by tightening a few screws and realising that god and the devil are in the details.
DINGWALL LEAVES THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY.
We were somewhat surprised to hear that long-time Stipe and well-known man-about-town Philip Dingwall,48, has left the HKJC building immediately with Elvis to pursue other interests. Melbourne-based Steward Gerard Bush will take The Ding Dong’s place in February.
Hopefully, amongst his new business opps, “Dingles” doesn’t have plans to purchase the Rights for the Victoria’s Secret brand for Asia as one hears this is part of the retirement plan for ANOTHER senior racing executive bringing HIS very long innings of “Deliverance” to a close.
Wah, there are suddenly so many non-racing creative ideas and “other opportunities” floating around, we just hope these people have the time to deliver what they’re being paid those Big Buck packages to deliver.
THE BEAUTY OF HORSE POWER
THE HKJC PROPERTY NEWS: ENHANCING THE RACING EXPERIENCE AND ALSO BEING MORE THAN JUST A RACING CLUB
THE FAST TRACKER HOPES FOR A DIVINE SUNDAY
There are much better races to follow than this moderate affair and I really advice hitting the nearest buffet table and grabbing a dozen oysters before some fat kid takes them along with his ten slices of cheesecake.
Dougie Whyte has put in a great deal of work into training Up And Coming and is sure to run a big race. It’s quite amusing how much training jockeys actually do while the trainers look on it. It reminds me of Paris Hilton being called a DJ.
First starter Bossie is the one to follow the next time it runs as it needs longer though its trackwork for Moreira has been outstanding, but this really looks like a race in three between Sight Seeing (Moreira), Presidentparamount (Keith Yeung) and Sea Ruby. All three jockeys are seen below rehearsing for a show tune medley they’ll be performing at the Longines Gala Dinner. Sweet.
Planet Choice, another relatively inexpensive and astute purchase for Hong Kong connections by Brent Thomson won at its debut and can win again here.
It’s drawn perfectly over the 1000 meter sprint trio and has Matty Chadwick taking over from the suspended Mosse for the great French Swordsman’s bon amis in the Planet Racing Syndicate. Diamond Master and Fay Deep look the main dangers from their wide draws though even from barrier two- or any barrier or anywhere and anytime- one cannot ignore Brilliante with Mirco Demuro in the saddle.
The Italian gave the stubborn- or is the poor thing simply confused about what it’s meant and not meant to do?- the extremely well-backed Enjoy The Game one of the most extraordinary rides seen in a long time to win on Wednesday- a win that would have had animal activists in Oz calling for heads as the horse was pulverised with the whip.
Having trainer Ricky Yiu almost gloat how “the jockey had to hit the horse fifty times” did not make for pleasant reading.
Secret Command disappointed at its last start, but this could have been second-up syndrome and the ball-busting effects of South Africa’s quarantine regulations. I would forgive that run. The horses to beat, however, are Sky Man with the mercurial Demuro aboard, below, and Shining Champion with the five horses boxed below very possibly able to give you the quinella and tierce.
Top Act with Moreira up instead of Callan who won on the Millard-trained galloper at its last outing will start favourite and go close though I am leaning towards Brett Prebble on the John Size-trained Tom’s Charm, which was a very close third to Beauty Journey over 1400 meters and will suit the mile. Plus, Prebble is back with a bang and riding better than ever.
Unique Joyous and Supreme Profit should be right in this and two roughies for the tierce are Hey Cheers and Winning Premium.
Either the return of Divine Calling or the thought of Nick Columb leading the horse in again has scared off many.
With Zac Purton in Japan for the World Jockey Series, Joao Moreira takes over on the super-impressive last start winner. If it wins again today, the Zac Attack can kiss the ride adios.
So, is this a divine sure thing? Look, there’s a sizeable Six Up Bonus up for grabs, many will be using it one out in their bets, and if it wins, one doubts that even the Six Up Bonus will pay. If it gets rolled- like Tefilio Calva did last Sunday- that’s where the value will come into play so take a few Six Ups with some not having what will be around the $1.40 favourite.
Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Here’s the race that could result in a knockout blow. In the money will be last start winners Ishvara and Hit A Home Run, but take these two away along with Celestial Smile, and things become extremely open as bad barriers, lack of speed and everything inbetween can make the best laid plans become unstuck and turn the next day into the Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays”.
Dougie Whyte gets back on Full Talent, another very good purchase by Brent Thomson for Michael Cheng who happens to be long-time friends with Gerald Mosse.
With Mosse suspended, Whyte, who won on the horse three times before the French maestro arrived in Hong Kong, takes over here, but surely knows that he’s only playing Deputy Dawg.
This is a tricky race as though Full Talent has an undeniable chance, it’s racing up a class, it’s had quite a tough campaign and might need a break plus he meets some serious competition here- though all those that will be in the money are also racing up in class. I give up.
Tony Cruz asked the owners of Beauty Journey to stick with Alvin Ng and the young apprentice did a good job to get it home. Ng retains the ride and Beauty Journey races up a class, and has a place chance as long as the young jockey doesn’t suffer from brain freeze.
Others with chances in a tough end to the day are Jun Gong, Brilliant Dream and Kynam with Born In China which raced as Born In Bombay and beat some very good horses being one to follow as the season progresses.
BEST BET: Race 5: SHINING CHAMPION (12)
NEXT BEST: Race 3: PRESIDENTPARAMOUNT (4)
VALUE BET: R10: BORN IN CHINA (2)
SARIKA CHOY’S SIX UP