It’s all about putting in the hard work- and by that, it’s not just about turning up for trackwork and making one’s self available for rides. It’s about how you go out there and promote and market yourself to owners, to the wives of owners, many of whom are more into racing then their husbands, make nice, but respectful small talk with trainers, make yourself available to the local racing media while always ensuring you’re a good ambassador for Hong Kong racing.
Ask any jockey who’s ridden here and they’ll say the same thing: Hong Kong makes you a better rider. What few say is that the place also makes you more worldly and business savvy.
What has made Zac Purton and Dougie Whyte the champion jockeys they are is a combination of all three of these X factors plus their god-given talents as great athletes. And it didn’t happen overnight. It took years of checking their egos at the door, watching, learning from mistakes, and absorbing it all before seeing even the semblance of a light at the end of that very long tunnel to a successful career.
More recently, Neil Callan, the underrated Hong Kong racing success story, is proving that his five years here have not gone to waste. He has adapted and is making a success of his riding career, which will also secure his financial future when the fat lady has sung on his career in the saddle. Let’s not forget the tax breaks offered in Hong Kong.
The tough Irishman has got off the canvas when hit by falls, suspensions, lose winning rides, and, as Sinatra sang, took the blows and did it his way- but willing to bend without bending over.
Yes, Hong Kong should, and, one day soon, might have Hughie Bowman, Blake Shinn, Tommy Berry, and Chad Schofield in its riding ranks- but it’s all about timing. And patience. Lots of it.
As seen by the strike rate of Nash Rawiller in his first season here, success back home amounts to nought in Hong Kong. It means having to start from scratch, and which is why Nash has, at 38, made that commitment to stay put, use his first season in Hong Kong to ride against jockeys with vastly different riding styles than, especially those in Sydney, and, through trial, error and suspensions, become a more international jockey next season- with stable support. Two key words: Stable Support.
Even though the red carpet was rolled out for Joao Moreira, let’s not forget how he had to adapt to racing in Hong Kong when initially hit with a spate of suspensions for careless riding. Even Magic Men need to learn new tricks. It not, they disappear. Poof!
So, while many in Oz might wonder from afar why an immensely gifted rider like Blake Shinn- and notwithstanding his “misdemeanour” in 2010- hasn’t yet been granted a license to ride in Hong Kong when he just might be able to, eventually, break up the “triopoly” of Moreira, Purton and Whyte, the big question is, Yes, but how long will it take him- or anyone else, for that matter- to even get a peek into the exclusive club that racing’s answer to The Three Tenors own today?
One area that might help speed up the process of new jockeys, who, despite successful track records back home, finding it tough in Hong Kong to hit the ground running is to look at ways of introducing these new names to owners, trainers and the local racing media- before they arrive.
This can also be a vital tool in the marketing and promotion of commingling as only a fool will bet blindly on horses they don’t know anything about, or follow trainers and jockeys they’ve never heard of. And lest one forgets, Hong Kong racing is Internationalizing its predominantly Chinese customer base.
This is where specially-produced bilingual content including consumer-generated content with inter-activity between racing fans- a delivery platform that is the racing world’s answer to a combination of YouTube, twitter, WeChat and Facebook- that’s shown in the online world comes into play.
It’s also how and where the HKJC can gauge the reaction and level of interest of its customers on any number of subjects, absorb the feedback- not through the dated “methodology” of old-fashioned “research and social media houses”. Going to that old well in 2015 is that known as covering one’s corporate arse.
Getting back to jockeys who’ve hit the ground running, is Mauritian Karis Teetan. He won the first race of last season on his very first ride, and was, literally, an immediate success. It didn’t take long to answer the question, Karis whooooo?
South African Richard Fourie, like Teetan, a naturally lightweight jockey, was someone else who jumped the queue. He rode light, he quickly forged strong relationships with a powerful stable like that of fellow South African Tony Millard, and he delivered.
When Ty Angland was issued a license to ride here, many raised their eyebrows- especially those in his own backyard in Sydney. Against all odds, however, he succeeded- fast- and was even giving Zac Purton a run for his money until a family problem forced him to leave Hong Kong.
Of course, all this happened during the time known as BJM: Before Joao Moreira. The Magic Man arrived almost out of nowhere, and to say, he has been a game changer would be an understatement.
His much-anticipated arrival put an immediate end to the John Size-Dougie Whyte partnership whereas any thoughts of John Moore waiting for flying visits from Tommy Berry disappeared overnight.
Moreira forced everyone to up their game- even trainers. With owners clamouring for his services and Moreira able to pick and choose his rides, trainers unable to secure his services had owners asking why. Were their horses not good enough. Or were their trainers sub-standard?
Of course, Purton and Whyte were not just sitting idle watching the magic unfold around them.
Without the support of John Size, something coming apart at the seams before the arrival of the Magic Man, Douglas exercised his options, and was quick to become Richard Gibson’s Go To jockey at an opportune time: Billionaire owner Pan Sutong, new to racing, became the trainer’s biggest owner- and Whyte, his jockey. Together, in 2013, they won the BMW Hong Kong Derby and the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup with Akeed Mofeed, and success has continued. It helped retain the Whyte brand. It still does.
As for Zac Purton, his built-in support system was led by trainers Dennis Yip, Caspar Fownes and, later, Paul ‘O Sullivan. Not only that- and scarily- he has fought off his kidney problems to become a better jockey- the complete package of superb athlete, and an intelligent rider who’s constantly improving his “brand” and strengthening his PR skills.
It’s against this backdrop, that those jockeys looking to be part of Hong Kong racing need to take a leaf out of “The Art Of War” and Know Your Enemy: Identify and understand the opportunities, and analyze the competition other than the The Mighty Three- Neil Callan, Gerald Mosse, Brett Prebble, Karis Teetan, Olivier Doleuze, Nash Rawiller and above average local Vincent CY Ho, Keith Yeung, Matthew Chadwick, Howard YT Cheng, and Derek Leung, each with their own support systems.
While many other racing jurisdictions continue with almost an allergic reaction to change, Hong Kong racing is The Transformer.
Hong Kong racing is certainly not what it once was when dominated by Aussie jockeys- some great ones, others not so great- Brent Thomson, Danny Brereton, Kevin Moses, Steven King, Danny Nikolic, Dwayne Dunn, James Winks, Mark Zahra, Darren Gauci, Damien Oliver, Michael Rodd, Corey Brown, Darren Beadman, and, in the Seventies, the Big Daddy of them all in Peter Miers.
Those were the days, indeed, and easy pickings while dancing up that Yellow Brick Road with the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and Dorothy and Lulu.
Racing in Hong Kong in 2015-and beyond- is played for bigger stakes than ever before. The better one is in their respective role, the greater return on their time and investment. It’s nothing personal, it’s business and it’s fair trade.
For those jockeys looking at riding in Hong Kong and wondering why they still haven’t received a license, a tip: Speak to Dougie Whyte, Zac Purton or Neil Callan.
Nothing is as easy as it might look from afar, and overseas success is only a starting point to Pee Wee’s New Big Adventure.
Racing in Hong Kong is like hopping aboard the Starship Enterprise with Captain Kirk and Mr Spock and going where few jockeys have gone before.
Who’s ready to undertake the voyage? Really ready?