(Courtesy of www.fasttrack.hk)
By Hans Ebert
It seems like it’s been a very short break between the end of last season and the start today in Sha Tin of the new Hong Kong racing season. Why is the new season starting on a Saturday? Well, Sunday sees the voting taking place in the all-important Legislative Council Elections, and who knows what to expect with all the warring local political parties out in force for power with various nefarious financial backers egging on their favourite sons- there are very few daughters- from the peanut gallery and away from harm’s way.
All this politicking is about trying to bring about change and give Hong Kong a certain autonomy from the powers-that-be in Beijing- strong sentiments, which, however, one cannot see happening.
Meanwhile, down under in Victoria, there’s a very different kind of politicking and where they must be wondering when the onslaught of Bad News Bears and grim racing stories will stop.
In recent weeks and months, there’s been the resignation and farewells of top executives, the ongoing cobalt saga that must be the longest running horse opera in history helped along by the usual know-it-alls on social media fanning the fires, cheats being unveiled, and proven cheats continuing with their misguided Methinks Thou Protesteth Too Much mantra, and supported by their fawning cheerleaders. It’s fugly stuff, and all sounding like that baked beans scene from “Blazing Saddles”, but not nearly as funny.
There’s then Victoria racing’s well-known serial leaker perched at the top of the tree trying to orchestrate his own agendas, all the petty “mail” discussed ad nauseum in the “palatial surroundings” of the Emerald Hotel, and the travails that face Chief Steward Terry “Cricket Bat” Bailey on an almost daily basis.
One can’t help wondering when and how and who will manage to put a lawless Humpty Dumpty back together again and repair a severely cracked racing product. Maybe it needs its own Black Bart to ride into town and clean things up.
In a nutshell, racing in Victoria is free falling like a Tom Petty song, and in complete disarray. With still no new CEO in sight- and whoever takes on this position cannot be someone wheeled in to bring about no positive changes for sustainability and growth- you’re surprised? What’s not needed is another lost walking disaster.
In Hong Kong, meanwhile, it’s been business as usual- even during the off-season. And with the Conghua training centre in Guangzhou recently being unveiled, it pours cold water on those who dismissed this project as being a pipe dream that would never see the light of day. Well, now that the light has been switched on, watch the stampede from many overseas trainers to become part of this game changer, whereas those already in Hong Kong should be getting on their knees and offering good joss to the racing gods that they will still be here when Conghua is up and running. And run it will.
Back in country Victoria, to add to its woes of being seen as a sinking ship of fools, Dr Brian Stewart, below, former head of veterinary regulation and international liaison with the HKJC who left Hong Kong in 2011, has bailed from his role at- where else?- Racing Victoria- to take up the new post of head of veterinary regulation and biosecurity policy, a department within the club’s Racing Authority responsible for anti-doping and quarantine policies, equine welfare and the international movement of horses. That’s quite a mouthful. It also shows where Stewart believes his future career lies.
Apart from attracting Brian Stewart, the HKJC has also made two other important new appointments for the Conghua project, both having been senior executives with Disney China including its former CFO Andy Wu. Anyone who knows anything about doing business in Mainland China knows working for Disney in that country gives one the experience to know how to get things done in the largest and most complicated market in the world. With these two additional hires, plus that of Dr Stewart, HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges has quietly and quickly built up a strong international team of executives for this multi billion dollar project.
Seeing everything and more that the training facilities will evolve into when opened in July 2018 should send a shiver down the spines of all those who have been busy for years promoting various half-baked schemes promising to bring horse racing- legitimate, bona fide horse racing- to Mainland China. Please. Enough of this empty talk. That’s like Fox News continuing to tell its geographically-challenged viewers that Donald Trump will save America by building his wall. Or listening to a speech by Kanye West and thinking it makes sense.
Sometimes, people should stop and think that Hong Kong, China, is part of the Motherland. Then stop to understand the power and influence of a racing club that’s more than a racing club with its Charities Trust that is known as the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Add to this portfolio, the club’s ongoing and past association and partnerships with Mainland China, especially in the area of hosting equestrian events.
Now put all the parts together to form one holistic Big Picture scenario and study it. To see everything it will be is not exactly rocket science, is it? And on the subject of science, God bless (Actor) Gene Wilder who passed away earlier this week. Dr “Franken-steen” will live on forever.
As for today’s racing, it’s an average looking card with the highlight being the running of the HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup. Young Sammy Clipperton, below, from Sydney makes his Hong Kong debut today, and it’s good to see him have seven rides including one in the Cup race- Dashing Fellow for trainer John Moore.
Along with Clipperton, making his debut in Hong Kong will be new ten-pound claiming local apprentice Dylan “Blowing In The Wind” Lo, who began his career at the hugely respected South African Jockey Academy in Durban before joining noted apprentice tutor Allan Sharrock in New Zealand in 2014.
It goes without saying that both will be hoping to get off the mark ASAP. It’s the only way to quickly attract more and better rides and win over the confidence of owners- and the posse of owners’ friends who, strange as it may sound, have a strong say in the decision-making process when it comes to which jockeys and trainers to use. It’s how racing in Hong Kong rolls.
On the subject of Sammy Clipperton, here’s hoping that if the HKJC Licensing Board continues down this path of bringing young guns to Hong Kong, it spreads its net a bit more than going to the same old well. With the future in mind, why not take a look at young guns like South African apprentices Callan Murray and Lyle Hewitson? There’s then the extremely good and experienced Danielle Johnson from New Zealand. And just to be boring and repetitious one more time, there’s Singapore-based Mauritian jockey Nooresh Juglal, with some hailing him as “the next Joao Moreira”. Big call. But having mentioned these names, there’s no point them coming to Hong Kong only to be legged aboard no-hopers and only thrown the crumbs. Not everyone can be a Karis Teetan or Neil Callan- both recruited by not going to the same well- and who hit the ground running.
Meanwhile, Joao Moreira, the Magic Man, fresh from his sextet of wins in Sapporo- he rode six winners in a row and had two placings from eight rides, and then walked on water and turned water to wine- must be thinking about what more he could add to his already bulging curriculum vitae. Winning the Arc on a Japanese horse, something Japan has tried to do so many times and failed, could certainly do the trick. The magic trick.
As for his book of rides today, there are at least three winning chances without being real winning hopes whereas Hong Kong racing’s pinup girl Kei Chiong might getaway with a double.
This will be an important season for Kei with some very well-respected horsemen wishing to see a more all-round rider and not someone who can only win by using her seven pound weight allowance and leading in every race. But this girl is no pushover. She knows the expectations on her to continue improving, she herself admits that she needs to be more versatile in her riding, and as she has done to date, surprise everyone by being able to rise to the occasion and face every challenge placed in front of her. And with a mentor like the great Felix Coetzee by her side watching each and every ride, she, and the other apprentices and track riders, are in good hands.
Hiring the highly experienced and respected horseman on a full-time basis by the HKJC is a great move. It also keeps the long and successful relationship between Hong Kong and South African racing alive and well. Will we see this relationship develop into other areas of racing? Time will tell. But the odds are that it will.
Winners today at Sha Tin? Finding them won’t be easy- is it ever?- but there’s certainly value to be had, especially in Races 1,2, 4, 7, and 10. Yes, that’s half the card.