It’s needed time for everything to sink in. Plus, when hosting friends from overseas with zero knowledge of horse racing, there’s always something new to learn, absorb and think about. “I never realised horse racing could be so enjoyable,” said one very good friend. “The races I’ve been to have been all about what to wear and which milliner to use.”
Amanda is far more used to attending film and music red carpet events. Certainly not any horse racing events though Champions Day in Hong Kong was a red carpet event on a Champagne Sunday at Sha Tin.
Many who watch Hong Kong races for the first time so often help us who live here shake off any signs of taking things for granted. Of looking at what’s right than what’s perhaps wrong. Their enthusiasm and excitement is infectious. They give us a sense of pride about this Made In Hong Kong product. Their take on Hong Kong racing makes us appreciate this product differently. There’s a sense of ownership. And this is very important as it has everything to do with a sense of belonging. There’s no velvet rope.
The day couldn’t have been scripted better with two local riders winning the first three races of the afternoon. Two of these winners were trained by local trainer Frankie Lor who’s seized the opportunity of being granted a trainer’s license this season after having been Assistant to John Size. It’s been sorcerer and apprentice stuff.
As for the two riders, what a thrill it must have been for Derek Leung and especially 10-pound claiming apprentice Victor Wong who rode a well-executed double on this very special day in the Hong Kong racing calendar. The thrill hasn’t gone, Mr BB King, sir.
Then, while Europe was waking up came the three Group 1 races which dovetailed neatly into the next chapter in the absorbing battle royale going on for the Hong Kong Jockey Premiership between Joao Moreira and Zac Purton.
Up until then, the Magic Man was two winners in front for the day. The three Group 1 Cup races were supposed to add to this tally. They didn’t.
This was because launched was a lethal Zac Attack. Zac Purton took out the Champions Mile with a superb ride on the John Moore trained Beauty Generation.
He won the Champions Sprint on a Joao Moreira discard- the still untapped new kid on the block trained by the best around in John Size and named iVictory. Size matters by the way as he trained the first three horses in the race. And then as if to prove that he’s not just IN the zone, but OWNS it, baby, the Zac Attack cruised down the middle of the track on Rise High with perfect timing to bring the curtain down on one of the most memorable days of racing this writer has seen and enjoyed and appreciated and experienced anywhere in the world. It was better than good sex. Kinda.
This racing event- it wasn’t another big racing meeting- was not another one trick pony show. There were many strings to the bow. It wasn’t only about prize money though the races certainly were rich- but also rich in prestige, rich in quality, definitely, rich in back stories, excitement and the coming together of so many different personalities to create a very special occasion.
A few nights earlier, we had seen something similar.It was Bruno Mars and his incredible dancers. They had blown my friends and myself away.
We had our minds blown again at Sha Tin on Sunday. It’s good to get blown.
“Imagine”, said a friend with us, “if Bruno Mars ended this show on turf with a flash mob version of ‘Uptown Funk’.”
This didn’t happen, but that’s okay. We had Pakistan Star.
It’s all about timing and on Sunday, this extremely intelligent, independent minded galloper decided that here was a big enough day for him to show everyone that he’d been fooling around until then- that he was going to give his new rider William Buick the ride of his life.
Buick, the last minute super-sub for Kerrin McEvoy, cuddled Pakistan Star from barrier one. He enjoyed the cuddle. Maybe like many of us he’s always only wanted cuddles? Once Buick showed him daylight, Pakistan Star just burst away from the pack and galloped off with the Audemars Piguet QE11 Cup. There was no need for the whip “to keep his mind on the job”. There’s nothing wrong with his mind. Pakistan Star simply does things his way. He’s like a Sinatra song.
As for the reaction from even his harshest and most frustrated critics, well, as my racing writer friend Robyn Louw says, “Horses often make fools of men”.
Having heard Sha Tin cheer on the great Silent Witness, the win of Pakistan Star was more an outpouring of love and respect- for the very patient owners, for trainer and Hong Kong racing’s favourite son Tony Cruz, for the fortuitous William Buick who knew he was part of something special, but most of all for Pakistan Star, a wonderful horse who’s taken everything in stride and decided that a new champion should be crowned on Champions Days. He, the Doctor Strangelove of Hong Kong racing, wrote his own script so that everyone else could enjoy the ride.
As for my friends, they’ve now seen another side to horse racing- horse racing as entertainment for everyone and not just for those with big hats and pukka Hooray Henry type strawberries and champagne elitism.
There was the focus and brilliance of Zac Purton, the training efforts of John Size, that memorable double for Victor Wong, Frankie Lor eventually training a treble, the HKJC staying with quality not quantity, and Pakistan Star rising to the occasion and showing the world who’s boss. It couldn’t get any better.
It’s going to be a hard act to follow. But constantly raising the bar is what keeps many of us going in life. Rest on our laurels and we’re going nowhere.
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