By Hans Ebert
Thinking back, there was the night when attending a fairly recent Hong Kong International Jockeys’ Championship and being introduced to Australian racing personality Bruce Clark for the first time. This was during his pre-John Wall-funded G1X Racing days. It was the same year one came face-to-face with Francesca Cumani. Nothing against Bruce who’s a lovely sun-tanned man, but to be in the presence of the luminous Miss Cumani at the After Race Party up at Adrenaline sent a certain tingle up my spine that resulted in immediate brain freeze. All I could do was waffle on about the flats she was wearing. They were light pink. I was Lord Gaga.
That might have also been the night back in 2012 when Joao Moreira and his wife were standing quietly at the back of Adrenaline, and I walked up, patted him on his back for winning the International Jockeys Championship, and mentioned that he “might do okay” if he ever came and rode in Hong Kong on a full-time basis.
The highlight last year was when Gavin Larena introduced himself to Hong Kong with a bang bang by shooting down his opposition and winning the championship for South Africa.
That was also the year the new G1X crew were at Adrenaline in full force led by an even more suntanned Bruce Clark. When Lucky Years won the third race of the night, colleague Richie Callander made the entire building shake with the thundering announcement that, “I BOUGHT THAT HORSE FOR HONG KONG!” There was a hush in the air until one lone voice broke that moment of silence with, “What about all the other crap you’ve sold?”
This year, and before the event, came the news that an even larger contingent from the constantly evolving universe of G1X were descending upon on Hong Kong. While some in the land Down Under wondered why- why not?-far more interesting was whether Bruce Clark’s tan might have reached The Donald proportions.
Of course, there were far more important questions. Would Douglas Whyte manage to add a record fourth International Jockeys Championship to his tally? Would Zac Purton win his first one? Would Gavin Lerena take it out for the second consecutive year? How would new boy to Hong Kong racing fans- Florent Geroux representing the USA- fare under the night lights of the unique and challenging Happy Valley Racecourse? What would be happening at the Beer Garden? Which International ambassadress would be judged the most attractive by those who had taken bets on this most exotic of bets?
How many thick-skinned hangers-on would, as usual, try and crash the After Race Party at Adrenaline just to become fawning groupies? How would one distance themselves from the flatulence of Hong Kong racing’s Big Whopper- Mr Bubbles and his hashtags?
At the Beer Garden, Jimmy Cupples, the voice behind the new theme song for Happy Wednesday, and another song for Hong Kong racing, in general, and specially flown in from Melbourne for the night, was wowing the crowd with a brilliant performance that included hitting notes that would make Axl Rose sound like Axel Foley.
With a backing band comprising some of the best Rock musos in town led by local guitarzan Jay, they rocked and rolled their way through the two originals along with hits from the Gunners, Led Zeppelin and Van Halen under a truly magical backdrop.
It was Rock and Roll and the crowd loved it, loved it. It would be a surprise if Jimmy Cupples isn’t persuaded to return for an extended stay at the Beer Garden. Hong Kong is starved for this quality of singer- and who brought the best out of the backing band. The usual covers were uncovered. They weren’t lazy copycat versions heard in every other Wanchai club.
While all this Cuppling was going on, the main attraction- the Hong Kong International Jockeys’ Championship- hit the ground running.
To those who know their barrier draws, in-form horses and jockeys who have experience riding the tight and unique city track, Ryan Moore was meant to clinch it. He had two winning chances- Giant Turtle and Beauty Prince- both had good draws, and it all pointed to Moore of a Ryan day at another international race meeting. And looking ahead at his book of rides in the four big races on Sunday at Shatin, this could even turn out to be HKIRR day- the Hong Kong International Ryan Races.
Of course as everyone knows by now, Hugh Bowman took out the HKIJC for Australia with a faultless display in the racing. And though a few riders could learn much from Bowman, it was a night that had it all- short-priced winners, long shots that made some go Big Bang Bong, being introduced to the talents of Japanese rider Keita Tosaki, and a record crowd for an IJC night of over 29,000.
We’re living today in a world in motion where those words by Bob Dylan have never been more true: The times they are a changing. And everything is changing with the times. Definitely.
As we left Happy Valley and while the lights were being switched off, at least to this person, the night wasn’t about winning or losing. It was a coming together of a very diverse group of people of all ages. It’s where Old School baby boomers met New School rookie racing fans not cut from the same cloth as those who live and breathe the sport 24/7 on Twitter and believe everyone else does. Wrong. Very. Along for the ride were many who came along to see what it’s all about and if they might wish to be part of it. It was sports entertainment and one big Happy Wednesday party as spontaneous as Kristen Stewart in the new video by the Rolling Stones. Old School meets Next School.
It was more than a glimpse into the future of horse racing- how the sport will always be the stars, and how so much more will be added to it which can never be planned. Like anything going viral, it will be consumer-led and nothing that can go according to plan. It’s about consumer-generated content and not something that can come from the corporate world. It’s about only providing the tools and see what this DIY produces.
On Sunday at Shatin, all eyes will be on the magnificent horses- Maurice, I Shin Hikaru, Highland Reel, Big Arthur, and maybe one that will surprise us all. It will all be about the Horse and racing- the best Group 1 racing in the world that happens once a year.
At Happy Valley Racecourse on this Happy Wednesday, there was the independent, inter-active spirit of horse racing as entertainment. It was about having fun. It was about keeping things positive. It was like that line from the song “Going Back”: “Thinking young and growing older is no sin”. Those who didn’t participate, or participated only reluctantly last night because the racing “wasn’t serious enough”, only showed just how out of touch they are with the world today. And reality. And the future of the sport.