BACK WITH EXTRA BITE (AND MORE RELISH)
By Hans Ebert
It’s a question that’s been asked for years. And every time one thinks the question has disappeared forever, it boomerangs back. Apparently, the Macau Jockey Club is up for sale- again- and for a bargain basement price, something that’s hard to believe, certainly not if Angela Ho, below, the powerful and ambitious fourth “wife” of ailing casino magnate Stanley Ho, and Vice Chairwoman of the racing club has her way.
“Lady Angela”, an entrepreneur and politician, is not known as extremely savvy “Dragon Lady” constantly breathing fire for nothing. Frankly, she’s a fascinating beast and the most important member of one of the richest (and most dysfunctional) dynasties in the world that can swallow the Kardashians for breakfast with their congee. What a reality show “Keeping Up With The Ho’s” would make.
Located on prime commercial real estate on Taipa Island, the Macau Jockey Club can add to Macau’s laundry list of casinos. Laundry list. Two very important words when looking at how Macau operates in its wooly way. And the reality is that even if you pooled all the laundry powders off the shelves of every supermarket in Asia’s “Vegas”, it would still be mission impossible to “wash, rinse, spin and dry” what is put through the Macau Laundry.
Knowing all this, why would the HKJC take on a rundown and financially bereft racing club’s debts plus its past, present, future, and all of its many members’ integrity issues that have even snaked their way into the Australian horse racing industry, where some extremely well-known names have gladly got into bed with those busily “washing” money into losing business propositions, or else have been completely hoodwinked?
Recently, we were advised by a Hong Kong-based entertainment company not to take action against one of its directors in a defamation of character suit as their parent company in Macau had “deep pockets”. We laughed. We have been wined and dined and wooed by their infamous CEO, and are all-too-familiar with their entrée into the Australian racing industry, what they own down under, who they have hand-picked to be their business partners- and the noose tightening around their necks by the authorities in Mainland China.
Last week, chatting with some of the most informed political and business writers in Hong Kong, the subject of how what happens in Macau no longer stays in Macau cropped up. The Motherland has already brought Macau to its knees. And not before time. But this is only the beginning. The once neglected Portuguese enclave had survived the shock of its own handover to China and was desperately trying to salvage the remnants of an interesting, if not unique heritage – a fusion of Chinese and Portuguese culture quaintly referred to as “Macainese”.
Then along came the avaricious “Gordon Geckos” and pack of ageing wolves of streets with no names from Vegas along with their antipodean counterpart James Packer- with, later, diva and Mariah Carey in tow in a garish display of tackiness following the opening a few months ago of another testament to bad taste- Studio City- something else that’s gone eerily quiet despite exporting such, er, mega talent as DJ Paris Hilton. Sorry, we’re starting to laugh. But that’s Macau for you: All show and no substance. All Paris and no baguettes.
Through joint ventures with the powerful Ho family siblings and some very powerful and well-connected, in every sense of the word, local “entrepreneurs”, they set about building their monstrous mini Vegas with its obligatory boulevards of broken dreams.
Macau’s casino business model was built on luring hordes of the growing economically mobile middle classes and Mainland Chinese government officials with lots of loot literally strapped to their body suits to play all the casino games- games that have made paupers out of princes and anyone else in the royal compound.
For those of us who witnessed, first hand, the architectural vandalism and the systematic destruction of a wonderful centuries old culture, heritage and values, it was a pill too bitter to swallow. But Patacas speak all languages, and Macau has become a shadow of what it once was.
From a racing perspective- and let’s not even go near the horror show that is the Macau Canidrome with its inhumane greyhound racing and links to Australia plus the continuing mystery of the Stanley Ho-owned 2009 Hong Kong Horse Of The Year and Champion Stayer Viva Pataca, below, brought back from retirement in New Zealand and now stabled somewhere in the MJC- the wilful neglect of the racing and training facilities at Macau’s Taipa headquarters has been obscene, and one suspects deliberate.
It’s all too obvious that all eyes and sensory orifices are firmly tuned into yet another casino monstrosity planned for the racing and training venue. The facilities, as they exist today, are so rundown, they are a massive embarrassment. Worse, they are an Occupational Health and Safety Hazard waiting for a calamitous outcome. The pool of horses has dwindled so dramatically, the Club can barely stage two race meetings a week, let alone come up with large enough field sizes to stimulate wagering and turnover. In line with the declining horse population, there is a consequential decline in racehorse ownership and in the quality of jockeys riding there.
What you have in Macau today are hardly the John Didham Years when racing in Macau was, at least, being supported as a bit of good weekend fun with some fairly good racing and a champion jockey who would have easily matched it with the best in Hong Kong at the time. The John Didham Years have become The Diddley Squat Years.
Tellingly, it is the spirit, interest and passion which has parachuted out of Macau racing. It is in limbo with, to put it mildly, an uncertain future. One senses quite strongly that this environment of an “uncertain future” is being deliberately sustained to undermine and eventually plant the “kiss of death” on Macau racing.
Pity. There are still some very talented, professional and highly capable trainers in Macau. Joe Lau, for instance, has successfully targeted the “Interport” races with his horses, and has a network of powerful clients who also race their horses with success at the highest levels of Group One and black type racing In Australia.
Behind Joe Lau are names like Raffles Farm whose team of “Sacred” horses, many ridden by Zac Purton, have become regular names on the Australian and New Zealand Group One honour roll in recent times.
Also associated with Lau are also the equally successful team of horses raced by C.C.Lai and trained by Chris Waller including recent Group One winners in Delectation, Grand Marshall and placegetter in this year’s Hong Kong Interport race – The Alfonso.
There is no doubt that a trainer of Joe Lau’s calibre would be a successful addition to the Hong Kong trainers’ roster if he were to be granted a licence. And if the stigma of being a “Macau trainer” was not hanging over him, something that doesn’t sit well with the HKJC for a laundry list of reasons.
The tragedy of Macau racing is that the fat lady is singing loudly, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to justify a wholesale takeover of this ailing Club by a world class leader such as the Hong Kong Jockey Club. It will not happen, so let’s stop playing the same old song. The record is cracked for good.