By Hans Ebert
It’s Father’s Day. And so the paternal thing to do is not mention to the family- the former or the current one- that this special day will be spent at the races in Shatin, or the more politically correct, Sha Tin.
This is where so many people get so many things wrong about Hong Kong, horse racing in Hong Kong and us “gambling mad Asians”. How many years have we read about “gambling mad Asians”? This writer has seen this term for over twenty years. It’s not only insulting, it’s a journalistic cop out, and, somehow, associated mainly with horse racing. And that’s just wrong.
The truth is that “Asians”- and Chinese are not “Asians”, ok?- might be driven about making money, and once this is done, turning money into more and more money, but through investments, particularly in property, locally, and always with some owned abroad in Canada, Australia, and, more recently, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. Like the hostility between Hong Kong Chinese and Mainland Chinese, and the difference between being from Beijing and being from Shanghai, it’s something that won’t be understood by those who don’t get out much and smell the dim sum.
Add to this, it’s us “gambling mad Asians” looking at just about every possible money making venture- opening a bar, club, restaurant, launching a clothing line, opening yoga and fitness centres for kids, therapy sessions for animals, bringing out designer yoga mats, creating the next big app, selling Nat King Cole and his brother Charcoal to Newcastle etc etc. Some call this being an entrepreneur. Many consider it living smart and not being stuck in some one-dimensional lifestyle as empty as living a lie online.
There’s of course a huge chasm between making the possible become reality and singing “Everything Is Beautiful”, and “The Impossible Dream”, and us “gambling mad Asians” are certainly not all drawn to horse racing in this city, something often lost on many who have never ever travelled to this part of the world and believe everything they read.
It’s like believing in fairies, or that horse racing in Singapore will suddenly undergo a new euphoric state of Nirvana now that the Singapore Turf Club has a new CEO in Chong Boo Ching, formerly with DuPont, pictured below, and holding out that the government will believe the sport is actually a sport and not a gnat lying in wait that will create a gambling addictive society.
Right down Orchard Road, Singapore has one of the best restaurants serving Hainan Chicken, there’s the random friendliness of Brix below the Hyatt Regency, some lovely people, an outwardly happy society, and wonderful six star hotels. But it’s also ruled with an iron fist in a velvet glove where nothing is quite what it is.
Hong Kong is nothing like Singapore. When it comes to horse racing, the government here doesn’t pretend it exists, and bans all news about horse racing from the newspapers. If anything, the government supports it because it has much to gain from horse racing, financially. Is the horse racing in Singapore marketed? Is it shown on television or streamed to those actually in the city? If the answer is no, isn’t this somewhat weird and a tad hypocritical when races from Singapore are shown in Australia, Macau and the Middle East?
Having been in and out of Singapore on a very regular basis, none of my friends know a thing about horse racing over there. Ask taxi drivers about the races, and they feign ignorance with an awkward silence and the usual robotic reply, “I don’t gamble, my family doesn’t gamble.”
Though having been to Kranji Racecourse, and had an enjoyable enough time, what’s missing from the memory bank is how and why I was there. Mr Chong Boo Ching seems to have a job ahead of him. Here’s wishing him and the Singapore Turf Club the best as if and when this current silenced mouse is finally allowed to roar in the Lion City, it can only help expand horse racing’s global customer base.
In Hong Kong, with the HKJC being the city’s largest taxpayer, and through its Charities Trust donations creating a past, present and future, horse racing is very much part of the Hong Kong lifestyle- more so for some than others. But it never consumes the city. It doesn’t result in Brain Freeze, anger and The Revenge Of The Twitter Trolls. One might not always agree with their decisions, but the Stipendiary Stewards are paid to do a job, and we accept this. There’s no return on investment in trying to prove the errors of their ways.
So, while many will spend this Father’s Day at Shatin, or cross-betting at Happy Valley, or using their Telebet accounts, and spending the afternoon at the various Off Course Betting Centres, there will be just as many “gambling mad Asians” out having lunch, shopping or catching a movie with their families.
As for those at the races- and with the wretched weather we’ve been experiencing one has to wonder what the track conditions and attendance figures will be like- they’ll take it all in, back their favourites, not allow the results to take over their lives, and win, lose or draw, think where to have dinner and return to life’s priorities. And if this means us being labelled “gambling mad Asians” for looking at and adding to one’s individual and family investment portfolios, so be it.
Despite its imperfections, Hong Kong remains one of the greatest cities in the world. We want it to see it prosper. And to those in horse racing here, who pay a little over 15 percent in taxes, live a lifestyle that would be impossible to beat “back home”, but are still happy being miserable, and not contributing to Hong Kong’s present or future, just leave. Please. Hong Kong doesn’t need the hypocrisy nor the negativity.