By Hans Ebert
“Sir, this Sunday. Your day. Finally “. It was the Manager of the apartments where I live reminding me that the new Hong Kong racing season starts up again on Sunday. I didn’t need reminding. Almost two months without horse racing in this city is like being celibate for three years. It’s tough going if stuck inside this dumpling with some wontons.
It’s more tough going when you’ve been internalizing far more important things going on in your life and seeing all the ills wreaked on the world.
Horse racing? It’s a pleasant enough distraction. It’s not all-consuming. I don’t get paid enough for horse racing to take over my life. Only the love of a good woman can do that. That’s the stress buster needed.
As for horse racing in Hong Kong, one doesn’t have to be part of a computer syndicate or be a professional punter living here to miss the racing season. It’s not some habit forming disease that could have you climbing up those 12 Steps to Gamblers Anonymous either. Mahjong can do that. So can playing the tables in any of the suddenly very empty looking casinos in Macau. No, horse racing in Hong Kong is a pastime to be enjoyed twice a week. It’s a hobby. It’s fun. It’s really what you make of it. It’s how far one wants to wade into the deep end.
There are television racing channels, mainly in Cantonese, which cater to an ageing and hardcore audience. Locals and a few retired expats, probably civil servants, going back to the days when there was horse racing only every Saturday afternoon at Happy Valley.
Those days when riding high in Hong Kong were jockeys like Nigel Tiley, David Brosnan, Philippe Paquet, Peter Leyshan, Geoff Allendorf, Danny Brereton and Philip Robinson.
Those were also the days when especially my aunt couldn’t wait for the form guide known as the Lowans to come out and followed the tipsters in the Racing Post- Peter Metrevelli, former professional footballer Derek Currie, Greg Whitmore, and Captain Midnight aka Bob Sanders.
On television with their tipping programme and post racing summary were Robin Parke and Jim McGrath. On the Chinese channel, the outspoken and always entertaining Tung Biu railed against what he believed to be team riding by “The Australian Gang”.
It was a much more simple time. It was a very different Hong Kong. It was very different horse racing.
More choice is a good thing only if this buffet comes with a Highly Recommended tag. But simply more of everything no matter how mediocre and irrelevant? It’s often a gumbo of mumbo jumbo and mumbles that are sometimes promises.
In today’s Hong Kong- and it’s certainly not the city it was, again because of the buffet of choices offered everywhere, but with fewer and fewer takers- younger local racing fans who can afford to be in the game as owners discuss the races in the hotel lounges of five star hotels.
Often there’s a trainer or jockey with them. These movers and shakers own clubs. Restaurants. A few Ferraris. Maybe a Maserati. They’re not showing off. It’s just how they roll. Mummy and daddy gave them silver spoons for their mouths when they were born.
This is the only lifestyle they know. Poor things. So deprived. Most are nice enough. They can’t help being rich. It’s not their fault. Some enjoy their company. Do I like them? Not really. We have nothing in common. We march to the beat of a different blancmange.
Those who cannot afford this lifestyle can be found in any of the thousands of HKJC Off Course Betting Centres. Here, or online or through telephone betting accounts, they can bet on football, the hugely popular Mark Six lottery and, yes, horse racing- Hong Kong horse racing unless there’s a simultaneous overseas broadcast. Only then can one legally bet on these races. And only through the HKJC totalisator pool.
Many still don’t understand this: There are no legal bookmakers in Hong Kong. There are no fixed odds. It’s also illegal for someone in Hong Kong to bet on overseas races with an overseas bookmaker. And it’s illegal for these bookmakers to accept these bets.
Over the years bookmakers from Australia have tried to recruit Hong Kong clients. Some were more successful than others. But these days, what they’re peddling is simply not attractive enough. Betting on races at Durbanville? Bhusan? Moonee Valley? Betting blind based only on odds? Why?
Of course this doesn’t stop some from betting on overseas races, especially in Australia. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. But interest in racing in Australia has waned. And very very quickly. It’s seen as a losing proposition. A waste of time. Plus word, especially on Twitter, about bad news integrity bears travels fast.
Who wants to waste time and money on something that might not be above board? Time is better spent travelling around the region and wherever else one can. Lithuania. Estonia. The Ukraine. Take me back, back, back to the USSR.
Two days of horse racing a week are more than enough for Hong Kong. It allows everyone the time to get on with other aspects of life. There are businesses to run. There are portfolios to build. There are business opportunities out there for those with something new to offer. The world is waiting to get back to some normalcy. The craziness must stop. Or be stopped.
On Sunday, it all begins again. The horse racing. It’s a season that should be dominated by champion jockey Zac Purton, especially when it comes to winning aboard the higher rated gallopers.
It will be interesting to see will be how Karis Teetan gets along with Pakistan Star when he rides Hong Kong’s most popular horse for the first time.
Well, interesting for those who follow horse racing. Not everyone does. Many are wondering how to make ends meet. How to keep their heads above water. It’s back to over supply and demand.
Back to horse racing, where will the support for Sam Clipperton come from after a somewhat quiet last season? Who will John Size turn to this season with there no longer being three of his usual Go To riders- Joao Moreira, Olivier Delouze and Nash Rawiller? How will the new riders to Hong Kong fare? Will it be about using the apprentices with their invaluable weight allowances while these advantages are still available?
Some in the land Down Under are sending me messages about how they’re gearing up for the Spring carnival. The return of the better horses. When will I be coming down. Not sure at all. Like Mr BB King sang, The Thrill Is Gone. Up in smoke.
Those glory nights spent enjoying karaoke sessions with a constantly changing cast of the good, the bad and ugly players at Fidel’s is long gone. One moves on. Gets rid of the strays. Grows up. Watches. Listens. Decides.
The line “Players only love you when they’re playing” plays in your head. Women, they may come and they may go. Play it again, Sambo.
On sports and racing radio channels there are the endless conversations about the Everest and the future of Chautauqua and interviews with “Weiry” and the chances of Vega Magic and lots of salivating and slobbering. That’s fine. Some call this being enthusiastic. Okay.
In Hong Kong, horse racing will also be discussed and deciphered and written about by racing people. That’s cool. Whatever. Are racing writers an endangered species? Or irrelevant in these fast food days of 140 words or less of ungrammatical “reportage”? Hmmmmm?
Sunday at Sha Tin will be a pleasant $10,000 Big Day Out with friends and a few hours to switch off and try to win. The real work happens the next day. It’s then Happy Wednesday Night Fever at Happy Valley Racecourse next week. That’s more my idea of an on-course experience. A reason to go horse racing.
In the end, it’s all about horses for courses. And different strokes for different folks. It’s whatever gets you through the night. Even if none of it makes any sense.
#HKracing #Hongkong #horseracing #HKJC