One has to wonder how many visitors to the Hong Kong International Races last week realised they were here at one of the most important moments in the city’s history since The Handover in 1997.
When on Thursday, December 11, the “tenants” of Occupy Central gave up their lopsided fight for democracy and Hong Kong roads and Hong Kong public life returned to normality, it was one of those “And YOU Were There” Moments- something to tell the grand kids about.
The fact that this “surrender” of sorts- and all the events before it- was taking place in a city as small as Hong Kong showed just how important horse racing has been and still is to the public.
Despite seventy eight days of protesters versus the police, protesters versus protesters, tear gas, triads, Hong Kong versus Hong Kong, an Umbrella Movement versus Occupy Central, protesters surrounding Government headquarters, student hunger strikes and certain segments of the international media focused on portraying “a city under siege”, the show went on- the Hong Kong show called horse racing- and the most important week in the sport’s calendar.
The show that is horse racing went on in Happy Valley- a stone’s throw away from Admiralty, the gathering place for Occupy Central protesters- and Shatin with the only disruption being that a few of the Off-Course Betting Centres in the troubled spots remained closed.
Horse racing not being infiltrated by troublemakers, or any race meetings having to be abandoned showed the power of the racing public, and the popularity and importance of the sport to Hong Kong. It was underlining an unwritten law that says, “You can f*** with anything else you like, but f*** with our horse racing and you’ll feel our wrath of fire.”
Having said this, it would be silly to think that those at 1 Sports Road were being cavalier and unfazed about what was happening just around the corner from them and weeks- and then days- before the racing world arrived for The Greatest Show On Turf.
A horse racing meeting in Hong Kong is always special- the racing, the international cavalcade of riders, those Happy Wednesday nights, venues like Adrenaline and the Gallery in Happy Valley, the wonderful Hay Market at Shatin, below, and the melting pot of nationalities taking it all in.
But dig deeper and the sport is this city’s national pastime. Always has been, always will as, apart from shopping, going to the movies, or the occasional visit to Ocean Park, there is only horse racing to interest hundreds of thousands in Hong Kong. It’s four hours of cheering on your favourites- the horses and the riders- and forgetting about work, spiralling rents, a rickety government, the past, the present, and a city, suddenly, looking as if facing an uncertain future.
One hopes some of this “back story” crossed the minds of those last week in-between those visits to Escape, Club De Hong Kong, the Champagne Bar, and, gawd forbid, Al’s Diner.
It would have gone a long way towards understanding just how intertwined horse racing is with Hong Kong’s daily life- and the continuing role of the HKJC and its Charities Trust to improve and enrich the lives of all those who shy away from the sport waving the crucifix in front of it.
With the Club’s upcoming 130 Anniversary Celebrations, a city emerging from a darkness not experienced since the SARS epidemic, will see the other side of the HKJC’s personality, one that is driven by its various charitable endeavours and not confined to being read about in the racing pages.
Hopefully, the new initiatives unveiled early next year will underline the fact once more that the HKJC is a hugely successful racing club that’s, well, more than being a hugely successful racing club.
It’s a Made In Hong Kong product for Hong Kong, and brand that needs to be understood and appreciated by those who still see the HKJC as only a horse racing and wagering entity.
The cynics and anti-gambling critics might say that’s exactly what it is despite “the bells and whistles to camouflage the truth”.
Personally, that would be selling the Club short, and also unfair to a brand that’s always needed to be managed like the delicate balancing act that it is, and with no safety net.
It’s where the Yin blends with the Yang, and where this unique Club needs to be all things to all people- something it continues to be against all odds.
Looking at the new year and the 130th Anniversary celebrations, there’ll be something charmingly ironic in seeing a racing club succeed where others have tripped and failed for the people of Hong Kong.
It’s like backing a rank outsider- and it defies the odds by getting up and winning as easily as our Able Friend did on Sunday.
THE INSDIE TRACK
BEWARE THE AMAZONIAN
Who was the visiting “racing personality” seen being unceremoniously bounced out of that notorious haunt in Wanchai frequented by many racing executives over the years known as Amazonian?
Later on, Prince Charming walked into that other very late cattle market that is Players with an extremely tall Thai “lady” with whom he indulged in some “wickid” dirty dancing before his back gave out and he- and the tables around him- come crashing to the ground. History repeated itself and Casanova was bounced out.
On the subject of Amazonian, we know why we stay away from that dump: It’s always been known as a place where staff misplace credit cards, wallets go missing and where you see some very bizarre behaviour from well-known racing people whose actions have been secretly filmed and photographed and shared for years by the very well-known Anonymous.
All the goings-on reminds us of the expat who took home an attractive lady he picked up at the joint when his wife was outta town. In the cold light of the morning, she turned out to be his domestic helper on her night off. Punchline: She got an immediate pay hike and a fabulous golden handshake when she decided to return home to Manila- and her new family house.
AND THEN THERE WAS ALL THAT BRASS!!!
Yes, there were a number of highs on Sunday at Shatin- the win of Able Friend, the triumphs of John Moore and Joao Moreira, and Richard Gibson and Douglas Whyte, the attendance and turnover figures, but there was one bum note to it all. Wait, there were many bum notes. These came from the brass band “deployed” for that afternoon’s entertainment fare.
Usually, it’s the Hong Kong Police Band that blasts out brassy renditions of national anthems of the winning countries. Alas, this year, they were busy clearing up the aftermath of Occupy Central. In their place was the Hong Kong Boy Scouts Band.
When they wheezed into the Chinese National Anthem- not exactly the most pretty of melodies- and Les Marseilles, we swear birds flying ahead dropped dead as trumpets and trombones fought with each other and notes were struck that had dogs throughout the nearby lands howling.
Also a bit of a howler was the female emcee of the winning presentation ceremonies constantly asking everyone to gather around for “smiling winning photographs”.
DIBAYANI AND MIZANI TO RACE IN OZ FOR HAYSEY.
Though extremely sorry and concerned to hear about yesterday’s bush fire that has affected so many including our good mate David Hayes’ AUS$25m property in Euroa, one small blessing was to hear that the highly talented gallopers Dibayani and Mizani, retired from Hong Kong racing after suffering bleeding attacks, will continue their racing careers in Oz for Haysey, one of our favourite people in the sport, who still has plenty of friends and fans in Hong Kong. Let’s not forget that multi billionaire horse owner Pan Sutong swooped down and purchased his Lindsay Park for some very mega bucks.
Haysey spoke to us at the Grand Hyatt’s Champagne Bar about Hong Kong’s International Day, the Magic Man, “the old guy” known as “The Durban Demon”, and Australia’s restricting and ball-busting quarantine laws.
“Toffee Tongue”, for the hundreds of thousands you’re being paid every year, at least, TRY and do something about changing these instead of being an icky serial whinger, mouthpiece and sweet talking old woman. Ok? Mate?
Meanwhile, International Thoroughbred Solutions’ Mark Player, who, amongst other coups, played the key role in getting Flintshire out here, also looked back at International Day in the video below- and gave us advice on the future of that new stud known as Ben Semmens, pictured below, with a couple of fillies and geldings.
THE VILE FACE OF EVIL
THE BEAUTY OF HORSE POWER
AFTER TIPPING NINE OF SUNDAY’S WINNERS AND SIX QUINELLAS, THE FAST TRACKER IS SPEECHLESS.
Race 1: 5-6-2-7
Race 2: 5-9-3-11
Race 3: 10-1-7-8
Race 4: 2-1-4-8
Race 5: 4,1,5,2
Race 6: 11-6-4-5
Race 7: 4-5-6-3
Race 8: 2,8,1,10
BEST BET: RACE 2 THOR THE GREATEST (5)
NEXT BEST: RACE 1: HELEN’S CHOICE (5)
VALUE BET: RACE 8: 1-2-8-10 (boxed quinella)