VIVA BECOMES ALL ABOUT PATACAS.
The front page story last Sunday in the SCMP by Kylie Knott concerning the bizarre turn of events that has seen Hong Kong’s most successful racehorse- Viva Pataca- the winner of over HK$83 million in prize money- surreptitiously returning to Macau when thought to have been in New Zealand enjoying the rest of his years since retiring from horse racing in 2011, raises a number of questions.
The case of not only Viva Pataca, but also, Viva Pronto, the one-time champion Macau sprinter purchased from bloodstock agent Bill Hutchison for AUS$140,000 by trainer Gary Moore, spending the rest of their lives in a stable at the Macau Jockey Club, has, again, turned the spotlight on the many well-known secrets about the former Portuguese enclave- the criminal elements involved in almost every facet of “the Las Vegas of the Orient”, the import of greyhounds from Oz to “race” in the notorious death-trap that is the Macau Canindrome, the sinister, mysterious and bleak Macau Jockey Club, and all the manoeuvring for control of the the business empire belonging to the owner of both horses- Dr Stanley Ho, 93- a one-time high-profile, vibrant and passionate horseman whose whereabouts since suffering a stroke a few years ago, remain a mystery.
The Stanley Ho saga became a very public and ugly fight for power and control a few years ago, and one still played behind closed doors between wives, ex-wives, warring siblings and various other players linked to various members of the family.
As for Kylie Knott’s story about Viva Pataca being kept in “dungeon-like” conditions in a stable at the Macau Jockey Club with repeated requests from the Post to visit the horse being rejected, it exposes a racing Club racked and rocked for years with rumours of corruption at its highest levels, jockeys losing licenses if they won when they were asked to lose by those “upstairs”, a club once rumoured to have culled hundreds of healthy horses due to unpaid bills by owners, and, allegedly, a haven these days for money laundering- the only reason for its existence. True? Only The Shadow knows.
When multi-billionaire Stanley Ho, who also owns the MJC, was still sharp of mind to make decisions, and racing the then-John Moore-trained Viva Pataca while, at the same time, ruling his many business interests in Macau with an iron fist, there was still some hope that the racing club would return to its “golden years”.
This was when, despite always being the ugly duckling step sister to the HKJC, racing in Macau offered a certain siesta of laid-back weekend racing in the then-Portuguese enclave where riders, at one-time or another, included everyone from Michael Cahill, the flying visits of Mick Dittman, Declan Murphy, Danny Brereton, Christian Reith, Jose Corrales, Gary Moore, Peter Leyshan, Philip Waldren, Sammy Hyland and the long reign of John Didham to Brent Thomson, Eric Saint Martin, Olivier Doleuze, Fausto Durso, the regular rider in Macau for all of Stanley Ho’s “Viva” horses, and Manuel Nunes, below.
Trainers in those early days included the legendary George Moore, Johnny Roe, Geoff Lane, Barry Baldwin, Michael Kent, and, in later years, came the dominance of the Gary Moore and MC Tam stables.
But those days of meeting up at the Hyatt Regency Bar, the hard work and long nights put in at the Mandarin and Irish Bars plus the obligatory visits to Darling for its lotto parade, and sampling the Russian buffet at China City are long gone.
Also gone are the horses, a number of marriages amongst that pretty insidious racing fraternity, and the enjoyment of having a leisurely bet on a Saturday afternoon or Tuesday night on the fourth floor of the MJC while enjoying a dish of Portuguese Chicken Curry and watching bets being made on mobile phones by various excited, badly dressed gentlemen while security personnel, standing next to “Mobile Phones CANNOT Be Used” signs, looked on and picked their teeth. It was all a bit of a crap shoot at Ok Corral by Chinese cowboys, but it worked in a kinda nouveau tacky Wild East way.
From once having over 1200 horses in training, the horse population of the MJC today is around 450- and going even further South. Some of the trainers from the early days are still hanging in there- guess there’s nothing else for them back home in Oz plus there are the huge tax breaks- and jockeys come and go with races run and won with none of it mattering one iota to anyone with interests in Hong Kong. This is despite those annual HK-Macau “interports” that, somehow, attract healthy turnover through races where average Class 3 horses from Hong Kong run all over their Macau “opposition”. It’s boring as hell, but the wagering landscape is pretty.
Owning a racehorse in Macau and having it win over there means a shrug of the shoulders. What happens at the MJC stays with the MJC. Please let it. The joint is run by losers for wannabe horse owners who, for various reasons, can never hope to be members of the HKJC.
As for Viva Pataca and Viva Pronto, many of us might have ideas on how to save these champion horses from their ignominious situation. This cannot happen. The owner, or owners have the legal rights to do as they please with their horses.
One insider has mentioned that Viva Pataca was brought back to Macau at the request of the ailing Stanley Ho. Apparently, he wants to have his favourite horse “near to him”. Perhaps. And if part of some “rehabilitation process” for its owner, it’s the latest twist to a circus and surreal reality series seemingly based on Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” and the final days of Howard Hughes.
COME BACK, SHANE!
For those who’ve asked, yes, former champion and glamour jockey Shane RS Dye is still living in Macau and keeping a low profile.
What’s “Billy Idol” doing in Macau? Apparently, sipping a Coke and “doing form” for Singapore racing.
NO MONEY, NO HONEY, NO NOTHING.
It’s been almost two months since he rode a couple of winners in Macau, but there is at least one Hong Kong-based jockey who is yet to be paid anything.
Still with Macau and the MJC, one hears that, six months later, several of the club’s owners are waiting for their prize money.
Why do they continue to race their horses in Macau? No idea. In fact, one old innocent told us last week that his AUS$120,000 purchase, formerly trained in Oz by Gai Waterhouse, is now racing in Macau. Why? No idea.
THE CONTINUING NON-ARRIVAL OF MARK SHEAN.
One day he is coming, the next day he’s not despite being in Hong Kong last week to, apparently, finalise his contract with several thousands of racing fans in Sydney hoping Mark Shean is re-installed as the state’s official race-caller.
Depending on who you ask, the excellent Shean- and a top bloke- is already in Hong Kong or “starting in May”- May?- whereas others will tell you that he was shocked seeing the shoeboxes passed off as apartments in the city, that what was originally promised as his package was downsized, and, the main reason being that with his missus unwilling to make the move, he’s staying put.
What do we think? That there’s a bit of truth to all of the above. With this season quickly coming to an end, perhaps it’s best if whoever at the HKJC is heading this process, regroups and make more far-reaching changes in the area of broadcasting than all this talk about a race caller, no matter how important the role might be.
If Mark Shean does pop up in Hong Kong, we’re tipping it will be with an Escape Clause attached to his contract in case he wishes to bail if unable to work with whoever calls the shots when it comes to all things broadcasting. And if he bails, then what? We’d possibly look at snapping up the excellent WA caller Darren McCaulay- if he, like anyone else new to Hong Kong is willing to first accept the city’s cramped living conditions, and then put up with the somewhat “sparse” and goofy production gaffes that can make the best talent look like amateurs.
FEELING MORE PAINE
He’s known by many to be an astute judge, and he’s also a good luck charm to his great mate Nash Rawiller. The last time jockey Neil “Knackers” Paine was in Hongkers, The Gnasher won on 33 to 1 debutant Dilly.
“Knackers” was back in town last week and was up at Adrenaline at Happy Valley Racecourse cheering on the race-to-race double ridden by the Wok Man.
On Saturday morning, he tipped the 16 to 1 winner of the Doomben Cup- Boban- and, for good measure, threw in earlier winner Strawberry Boy.
Tipping and winning aside, “Knackers” managed to lose his shoes- yes, shoes- after a long dinner at Wagyu on Thursday night though discovering the joys of the best mojitos in town at new Italian restaurant on Caine Road- Sepa.
FROM THE RACING TWITTERVERSE
BILLIONAIRE HORSE OWNER PAN SUTONG: WHERE IS ALL THIS HEADING?
THE FAST TRACKER RIDES INTO THUNDER, LIGHTNING AND AN UNEVEN PLAYING FIELD
A 1000m race for griffins with six debutants and probably best left as a watching brief. Having said that, box debutant New Asia Sunrise, Highland Hammer, and Happy Chappy, and you’ll definitely get the quinella, if not the tierce.
Let’s hope Happy Chappy brings up winner número three for Damian Lane. His Hong Kong stint hasn’t exactly yielded much fruit and, thinking back to Christian Reith, it should have the HKJC Licensing Board re-thinking what criteria needs to be used when bringing in new riders despite that often-over-used “gun” label.
In Hong Kong, and competing in new surroundings against a group of experienced International jockeys with very diffident riding styles, not to mention first call on the best horses in every race, “guns” amount to nought. The guns, try as they may for the token few months they’re here, keep shooting blanks with very few opportunities to make their presence felt with owners and trainers.
Right now, Hong Kong is top-heavy with heavyweight riders- Purton, Whyte, Callan, Prebble, Doleuze, Mosse and, of course, Moreira. Apart from Karis Teetan and, yes, that man again- Joao Moreira- who are the lightweight riders available? Eddie Lai? Jacky Tong? Ben So? Not good enough. It makes for a very uneven playing field- in many ways.
Huh? A Class 5 event for horses rated 40 to 0??? A ZERO rating??? Pass unless taking the first double- Purton onto Callan or a 2×1 Quinella-Place bet- R1: 2×5 onto R2- 1×8.
SELECTIONS: (1-8)- 3-4-5
A Class 5 event for horses rated 15-40??? A rating of 15??? Why bother paying the upkeep to race this quality of animal for years and years when for that same money one can buy something better- but NOT a Gai Waterhouse cast-off. Lady GaiGai is not forcing anyone to buy her rejects, but who is?
Recently, some wannabe Hong Kong owner was proudly talking up a one-time Gai galloper he bought for AUS$120,000- to race in- gawd no- Macau. Where’s the return on investment in this? What’s the point? Who’s zooming who here?
“The Gnasher” was singing in the rain on Wednesday and flapping those wok-stirring arms with a race-to-race double and should go on his winning ways here with last-start winner Diamond Mysterious.
The two “Unique” horses for the Lau family- Unique Awesome and Unique Joyful- stand out as double bankers based on their last starts and with the 1600m they tackle here looking perfect. The BIG question is how the track will be riding and if these Unique horses handle what will at least be a yielding surface.
With the Family Lau screaming out their good things from rooftops and banquets planned, big things are expected. If they don’t happen according to script, expect a stable merry-go-round.
Speaking of stable changes, what’s surprising to see is Heart Wood now with David “Darth” Ferraris. The thought of the straight talking “Darth” dealing with owner Pato Leung, below, is hard to imagine- Leung having once been fired by Tony Cruz for being a pain in the arse.
Now known as “Doctor” Leung, Pato, once a Pop columnist, who was known for bringing the Bee Gees to Hong Kong, managing the local pop group he named the Wynners, below, after their original name Loosers was too appropriate, and for penning a song called “The Backside Of Your Mind”, has his own ideas on what supplements are needed for his horses feeds- and goes on and on and on about them, which he prescribes and sells to human beings.
Sensation has to be taken on trust as, after one impressive win, it’s been backed three times when favourite and has lost. Zac Purton who won on it is back on board and this is a tip itself.
Is it banker material? Personally, I’d rather be looking at Ten Flames, and, perhaps, with the weather we’re experiencing, Thors Bolt, in what is a nightmare start to the Six Up where avoiding many favourites might be the way to go.
With the blinkers slapped on for the first time at its last start, Elegance Klammer won over course and distance, thanks to one of those throw-the-kitchen-sink rides from Olivier Doleuze, a top bloke and easily the best dressed jockey in town.
Ollie is back on the Michael Chang trained galloper after a decent break and will go close again. Last start winner Bear-Pop must go in albeit not on a win line with Moreira sticking with it in a trappy race full of some pretty average Class 4 types rated 60-40.
Brett Prebble seems to have quite a strong pull with the Chris So yard, and it’s interesting that he goes onto Lucky Scepter for Francis Lui with So’s consistent Let Me Do going to the Zac Attack.
Both have chances here in a race where there will be plenty of speed upfront from Sunny King and Solar Kingdom and a number of winning chances. It’s exactly the type of race where a bolter could strike outta nowhere, upset the best laid plans, and have many running for cover.
Chater Rock has been working very well for Karis Teetan, who seems to have deserted it for yet another run this season- its ninth- over 1000m for Country Melody which must be a bloody tired horse by now. Pen it as it’s tired and will not appreciate what is certain to be a wet track.
Though one can’t ignore Chater Rock, the engagement of Vincent CY Ho is not one of the owner syndicates Go To jockeys, so look more in the direction of Tango Fire, Beauty Kingdom- both will love the wet conditions- and the very consistent Fay Deep with ten-pound claiming apprentice Jack Wong aboard. The 10-pound problem here is that Jack hasn’t ridden a winner in some time after a very short spurt where he looked like being the new Matthew Chadwick.
Then again, broken finger injury or not, it’s sure taking an unusually long time for the old Matty Chadwick to make a comeback. The silence surrounding his return is deafening.
A strange race in that it’s almost hand-picked for horses with one-time Great Expectations, but which have gone Southwards.
For example, Dilly won at Happy Valley at its debut at 33 to 1 for Nash Rawiller, and is now tackling Shatin for the first time after two placings at the city track. It’s taking a class rise with Howard Cheng aboard. Why?
Dining World, Clever Beaver, Mr Genuine, Our Folks, and, apart from Strathmore, which seems to have more upside than the rest, might be needing a break from a hard season.
John Moore unveils a new runner in Victory Magic which Joao Moreira jumps on and one needs to see if it will be backed by the few that don’t just blindly follow the Magic Trails. That’s just stoopid. Ask Betfair in Oz how stupid that is and those now betting against Magic striking- and winning.
As brilliant a jockey as he is, only a fool will believe that Joao Moreira can win on every horse he rides though, through sheer weight of numbers, he’s turned the once-competitive Jockey Challenge into a one-trick pony.
An excellent race to end proceedings and even more excellent if you’re on the winning side of the ledger and know you will stay that way even if you lose here. With the track certain to be badly cut up by now, use your noggin, and bet smart.
The extremely consistent and big-hearted Rewarding Star has to be included and deserves some type of award for his efforts this season. He carries topweight, but has taken a class drop and should run in the top four.
There are so many chances here that it makes the mind boggle. But looking for some value, Guru’s Dream, which recently won in Macau on a soft track, and has Monsieur Mosse riding two pounds over can be followed along with the lightly weighted front-runner Multivictory.
The bottom line is that, frankly, all these early tips are pretty useless as all these tipsters can’t really tip what the weather gods have in mind- and how the horses will react to the type of blanket of green that will be spread out for them.
It’s always best to take some fun Six Up or Treble bets at the start of play, whack the big money on one you’ve singled out after seeing the track conditions, and, if you win, hit Wagyu- the one on Bailey Street- and try your luck with some of the bored Yummy Mommies there for dinner.
BEST BET: RACE 10 STRATHMORE (10)
NEXT BEST: RACE 4 DIAMOND MYSTERIOUS (3)
LONGSHOT: RACE 11 MULTIVICTORY