By Hans Ebert
Australian sporting fans are probably the most patriotic and rabid in the world. Sometimes, there’s a tendency to go a tad overboard where even when their team has lost, especially at cricket, they’ve “won” because the pitch was watered to favour the other side, or the other team had somehow cheated, or the selectors had got it wrong. Elaine?
Then again, it’s no different to cricket fans in the sub-continent going through denial and floating down that river in Egypt and finding it impossible to accept defeat. Elaine?
Ever watched either India or Pakistan lose to each other or England beat India in Calcutta? It’s like The Revenge Of The Days Of The Raj. All those pent up emotions from India’s colonial days boiling over into a long-running soap opera of tempers raised to vindaloo levels of angst.
In horse racing, Hong Kong racing fans have often read how Australian riders have “dominated” this and that race meeting. It’s of course all quiet on the waterfront when a certain Brazilian rider named Joao Moreira rides trebles, quartets, quintets, and even eight timers.
Also MIA amongst The Tall Poppy Syndrome is that three South African riders ruled Hong Kong racing for twenty one consecutive years- Basil Marcus, the year when, somehow, Robbie Fradd won one premiership, before there began in earnest the thirteen year reign of Douglas Whyte.
When Aussie Zac Purton went into overdrive and stopped this incredible run despite the lack of any support from the powerful stables of fellow Australians- John Moore and John Size- the hills were alive with the sounds of “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!”
Nothing at all wrong with this as the Zac Attack absolutely deserved that premiership. He won it against all odds. And, if really thinking deeply about it, it’s probably the most underrated, overlooked and under-publicised Jockey Premiership wins.
As if to almost bury its memory and the accomplishments of Douglas Whyte, Joao Moreira was suddenly in Hong Kong to weave his incredible brand of magic, rewrite the horse racing history books and change the face of racing forever.
With the explosion of social media and with everyone having something to say about everything, and those in horse racing having their own heroes and, sometimes, desperately wanting to belong, things go over-the-top. Simple congratulations or confidence building messages could easily turn into hype. It could create unnecessary pressure on a young rider or even rookie trainer. Or even someone with the seemingly bottomless bag of tricks and bombproof confidence of Joao Moreira.
We have become so used to the mercurial and tremendously popular Brazilian regularly riding trebles etc, that even one meeting where The Magic Man goes poof and comes up short is greeted with dumbfounded dismay. We have seen hype take its toll in music all the time.
In horse racing, we have seen some extremely talented young apprentices- and legendary senior jockeys- fall by the wayside through all manner of demons knocking at their door, which they let in and could not exorcise.
What many of us often forget even when it comes knocking, the stress of having to live up to great expectations can become another brick in the wall. Another addiction. Think of how this might affect someone barely out of their teens and without that maturity, human resolve and support system to give them that internal fortitude to keep them grounded.
This ability to stay grounded and be aware of the highs and lows of their profession is what makes this writer especially admire Douglas Whyte, Zac Purton and Joao Moreira along with Ryan Moore, Hughie Bowman, Christophe Soumillon, Yutake Take, and the incredible inner strength of Tommy Berry.
There’s a very thin line between pride and arrogance, success and failure, and yin and yang. It’s what makes them champions of the racing world. It’s what makes one continue to admire former champions like Michael Kinane, Darren Beadman, Gerald Mosse, and some will disagree with this, Frankie Dettori.
They’re survivors in a sport where there aren’t too many. Not really- those who have gone to the top of the mountain and might have stumbled but picked themselves up and made some life changing decisions. It’s what forced Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, and a handful of others to beat the devil at his own Fame Game and the despair and temptation it brings, and win.
At the same time, we have seen what too much fame too soon, and the pressures of having to constantly produce the goods to feed that voracious appetite of celebritydom has had on so many- Michael Jackson, Prince, Rock and Roll’s 27 Club, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, and, most recently, Chris Cornell.
In horse racing, for young riders, there’s the need to grow up fast and sacrifice their youth. There are also always enablers around and too much of everything too soon. We never know what’s going through their minds. We’ll never know how they manage to juggle everything around them- everything from keeping their weight down to, especially in Hong Kong’s competitive, fickle and often insular world, to suddenly needing the people skills and intuitiveness to know right from wrong, and realise that one is only as good as their last winner.
Celebrate these young riders wins. Offer them constant support. Be their cheerleaders. But also know when to practice restraint. Know when to rein things in, especially in that often unreal world of social media, even when thinking they have managed to find their feet and hit their stride. Many are often still taking baby steps in the game of life.