By Jenny Bridle
(Courtesy of http://www.fasttrack.hk)
Whether you have direct experience with horse racing in Hong Kong, it goes without saying that the venues and the turnover are spectacular compared to anywhere else in the world. Only in Hong Kong is there a world class racetrack nestled among the City’s skyscrapers.
Only in Hong Kong does gambling turnover consistently exceed billions of dollars every year. And, visitors from other racing jurisdictions — especially those from North America where spectating crowds can be very thin on the ground except at signature events — will be blown away by the sheer size of the HKJC with its almost 30,000 employees, the huge number of fans on track, the general atmosphere of excitement, the jockeys who are treated like rockstars, and the local newspapers which still carry feature pages of racing stories and profiles as well as every stat you will need to place bets. Taken together these components make racing in Hong Kong nothing short of spectacular.
And yet . . .like many great spectacles, on the ground or “behind the curtain,” there are unheralded people, busily working away, who contribute a great deal to making the spectacle happen. In Hong Kong, one of these often unsung contributors is paddock analyst Jenny Chapman.
Originally from Australia, Jenny grew up around the racehorses her father, Kel Chapman, trained. She learned to ride at an early age and wanted to be a professional jockey. Thwarted by the rules at the time, which didn’t grant licenses to professional female jockeys, Jenny rode as an amateur and won two Ladies Championships at home before coming to Hong Kong as a commentator and broadcaster over 20 years ago.
When asked “What is it about Hong Kong racing that makes it so special?” Jenny is quick to respond. There are only two race days a week, she explains. In Australia there is racing every day, which is exhausting.
“Hong Kong also has two completely different tracks,” she continues. With a different atmosphere at each one. One track, Shatin, races during the day. The other, Happy Valley, races at night. People here in Hong Kong love racing. The owners love being involved. Less is more and the variety means there’s always something to look forward to.”
Given some of the negativity we see in the media about racing, the question of what’s not perfect about Hong Kong racing needed to be asked. When pressed, Jenny says there isn’t anything she doesn’t like about Hong Kong racing.
“I’ve been here for 22 years. It feels like five,” she says.
In addition to being “Jenny from the Paddock,” Jenny and her husband run a successful bloodstock business. For 17 years they have been buying yearlings in New Zealand and selling them on to a long and very loyal list of Hong Kong owners. Most notable, of course, is their association with the great Silent Witness whom they purchased as a yearling before selling on to his Hong Kong owners. It’s hard to name an award this champion sprint did not win: Hong Kong Champion Sprinter three times starting in 2004, Hong Kong Horse of the Year in 2004 and 2005, Hong Kong Most Popular Horse of the Year in 2004 and 2005, and World’s Champion Sprinter in 2003, 2004, and 2005.
It’s always interesting to hear successful women’s take on the women-in-horseracing question – is is harder for women to succeed in racing? Is racing a “man’s world?” Jenny explains that her dad was a trainer and she just grew up with the boys around the horses.
Echoing the sentiments of other female jockeys such as Emma-Jayne Wilson who says she’s a jockey who just happens to be female, Jenny says she never thought much about being woman when she was riding.
Broadcasting was different though because twenty years ago when she was getting into the business, racing television was always hosted by men. She says that she found Hong Kong even more of a challenge as a woman because Hong Kong was very much a male dominated world. Still, what made it possible for Jenny to break through the barrier was her talent. She was able to work as a broadcaster during the Melbourne Cup and this proved to decision makers in Hong Kong racing that she would be a great addition to Hong Kong racing.
Both in Hong Kong and Australia, Jenny has a large fan base. She is a very experienced and gifted judge of horses. And, this, her ability to look at and assess horses on the spot is what truly sets her apart from others in the Hong Kong racing world.
While much of what is published about horse racing around the world echoes the sentiments of former (United States) Jockey Club president, Ogden “Dinny” Phipps who famously said, racing is and should be all about the horse, in Hong Kong horses are not the overarching focus of the sport. Although this may seem strange on the surface, it is not surprising given that there is no breeding industry and all the horses are imported from elsewhere. Instead, Hong Kong racing is about betting, the prestige of involvement in the Sport of Kings, and the social experience for most participants from fans to owners.
Thus, added to her experiences as a champion jockey and her talents as an excellent judge of horses, Jenny Chapman stands out as focused on the horse, which she readily describes as “a superb animal.”
Her focus on the horse is readily apparent when asked to name three of her favourite Hong Kong horse racing highlights of all time:
1. Tony Cruz winning his last race on a horse called Super Team. The reaction of the crowd to their hero was incredible.
2. Watching Silent Witness’s career unfold (after owning him through our business, then selling him to Archie Da Silva) & just being on that amazing journey of winning race after race.
3. Whilst it’s not in Hong Kong, it was going to watch Silent Witness win the Sprinters Stakes in Japan, after he got loose the morning before & bolted. I’ve never cheered a horse home so hard in my life! Such a magnificent racehorse!
Sometimes, we can get an accurate sense of what people are like by how others treat them. Finding this measure for “Jenny from the Paddock” was easy – she is universally loved and respected. Even the Chinese language TV coverage on Hong Kong racing cites Jenny; her paddock selections and commentary are the only ones offered from amongst the myriad of English-language broadcasters and tipsters. To my mind, this kind of respect comes from a general attitude of giving what you hope to get: Jenny Chapman analyzes the horses who cross her line of site in the paddock with an expert’s eye and yet is always positive and respectful in her assessments. She never trashes horses, owners, or racing like some seem all too happy to do but always provides her honest assessment. And, she does this without much fanfare.
We should celebrate Jenny Chapman (and everyone like her) who are quietly working away, remaining positive about racing and passionate about the horses while making great contributions to the sport.