By Hans Ebert
If anyone needs to understand what makes horse racing at Happy Valley so special, they really should have been at the races last night. Yes, most know and have seen the unique venue where there exists a racecourse in the middle of skyscrapers that’s always been something for the riders and their horses to conquer, but this track brings much more to the sport- almost a magical feeling.
Whereas longtime Hong Kong Belongers remember the days when Australian jockeys like Peter Miers, Glyn Pretty, Ray Setches, Geoff Lane and others ruled the track along with local Champion jockey Cheng Tai-chee, before him, Kenny Kwok, and a young gun named Tony Cruz was starting to make a name for himself, going racing at Happy Valley is a completely different experience to at least two generations in Hong Kong.
To the new generation trying to understand a sport that might at times be something they feel has no place for them, or has no upside, Wednesday night- Happy Wednesday- would have made believers of them.
Often it’s the small things that count and Joao Moreira taking the time before race seven to stop cantering his horse to the starting stalls and allowing all those race goers lined up against the rails of the Beer Garden the chance to see him and his equine friend up close and personal, meant a helluva lot to these new racing fans.
Yes, it was a small gesture by the Brazilian magic man of Hong Kong racing, but to the Selfie and Instagram and Social Media Generation, they were experiencing something new. Those few minutes of thoughtfulness by Moreira was worth more than any marketing or communications programme aimed at this demographic. It gave them a sense of belonging. They were part of this “club” many had heard about from their parents, but now had bragging rights to a totally new experience. “Wow, I met Joao Moreira!” “I almost patted a horse just before it raced” and “Look at this selfie with us and Joao Moreira” were heard from many quarters throughout the night. But there was much more to this night.
Popular female apprentice Kei Chiong not only rode an excellent double, she won the Jockey Challenge and Girl Power ruled.
Often, experienced racing fans take too much for granted- and this goes for hardcore racing executives and their posses. To many, this was the first time they even knew there was a female jockey riding in Hong Kong. To the strong contingent of young females who are Happy Wednesday regulars, this was new drawing power- a new incentive to come racing and cheer on A-O-Kei Spice.
In Hong Kong today are also huge fans of the Made In Korea brand- fans of the country’s soap operas, K-Pop, the cuisine- and for these fans, knowing that Wednesday saw the running of the inaugural Korea Racing Authority Trophy and all the Korean-themed activities built around this race, was, again, added value to their overall experience at Happy Valley.
While the last of three Digital Nights continued, with a big nod of thanks towards Samsung for their virtual racing goggles and other technological breakthroughs, working in tandem was a Korean night. Yes, there’s more.
The new legion of Joao Moreira fans seeing the Magic Man at his very best to win on Blaze Stamina was another highlight. Awesome is often an overused word, but that was an awesome example of what it takes to be a world class jockey.
Champion jockey Zac Purton is an unabashed fan of riding at Happy Valley, and his wave to those screaming out his name from the balcony of Adrenaline, again, might be a small gesture, but it brings the sport to the fans. It helps engage the fans. And the more they interact with the jockeys, the closer they get to wanting to understand the sport.
Horse racing can never be more up close and personal than at Happy Valley with its ‘live’ music, the open air Beer Garden, a sense of genuine camaraderie and the magic- it’s that word again- of people- people from different parts of the world- interacting with each other and horse racing being the catalyst.
If only every racing club could bottle all of this. But they can’t and many wouldn’t know where to start.
After the last race had been run, the brilliant Jennifer Palor Band played on at Adrenaline. The week before, there was some spontaneous dancing taking place after the races with the CEO of the HKJC leading the charge and owning the dance floor.
This night, that last set became a memorable jam session with guest musicians from different parts of the world sitting in, and everyone letting the music take them to wherever was their next destination. Yes, it was magical.