THE MAGNET THAT IS HONG KONG RACING

By Hans Ebert
Visit Hans-Ebert.com

In the end, it’s always about the money. And there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s nothing personal, it’s only business, though we now know this to be just a tag line and how, as Dylan once sang, “Even the President of the United States must sometimes stand naked.” Now there’s an awful visual.

Getting back to money, it’s what drives every business. At least today it is. Even the business of love and marriage. And horse racing. What’s the business model to horse racing? Create a race or races between a group of horses- a game of chance and consequences, where there’s big money up for grabs…if one wins. And there are various ways of winning. Some, not so obvious.

How one tries to get a slice of the winning pie is a form of business because there’s work involved. Even hobbies can become businesses. It’s about the money money money and millennials and oldsters and hipsters and more money money money and entitlement. And it works in different ways for different customer demographics. It involves the entire racing industry. Some racing clubs can be The Good Ship Lollipop. Others are The Titanic.

At least in Hong Kong and where and quite a few of those with whom I “hang”, horse racing is discussed in some detail- but about totally differently things to what might be discussed elsewhere.

Perhaps the interest in horse racing here has to do with Hong Kong’s entrepreneurial spirit. The fact that it once was a barren rock. All those years playing Hop Sing under British rule- the Taipans author James Clavell wrote so knowingly about, especially in “Noble House”.

It’s the admiration that still exists for game changers like movie tycoons Sir Run Run Shaw, the self-made billionaire Li Ka-shing, and actor Bruce Lee who single handedly took on Hollywood type casting. Never forget.

The flip side of the coin is the obsession that now exists with those whose “worth” in business circles depends on that crazy little thing called “face”. Own a Derby winner or a Group 1 winning horse and one is catapulted up the social ladder. It helps The Art Of The Deal. And even how certain businesses do on the stock market. As ABBA sang, The Winner Takes It All.

There are of course those who look at horse racing as something of a mild challenge. Something to beat against all odds. Or a way to spend a few hours on a rainy weekend. Or take in the relaxed fun of a Happy Wednesday night. Not everyone can afford to be a horse owning dynasty like the Sius, Kwoks, Huis or Laws. Nor want to be. They dance to the beat of a different drummer.

How much a jockey, especially a leading jockey or trainer makes, or has made over the years, has been discussed ad infinitum over the years.

Many in Hong Kong are fascinated with wealth. And the wealthy. Often, it becomes Oliver Twisted. More is never enough. The Haves and the Have Nots were tackled in “Crazy Rich Asians” though the backdrop for the movie was Singapore. It was Singapore-la corny. But it worked.

The Haves in Hong Kong racing and their sycophants, enablers and family secrets would make for a far better movie. Tarantino should direct.

The discussions about those in horse racing and their bank accounts go back to when a lanky hardly successful jockey named John Moore was forced to play second fiddle to his far more illustrious younger brother and champion jockey Gary Moore, below at the height of his powers with another young upstart in Tony Cruz.

My my, look how much that picture has changed. With all he’s achieved and continues to achieve, John Moore should be a Hall Of Famer.

Gary Moore? Not sure. Gazza is Gazza. A good guy. A battling trainer in Sydney. He could have had it all. He did.

Strangely, though hugely successful as a Group 1 winning trainer who’s trained such champion gallopers like Viva Pataca, Able Friend, Collection, Designs On Rome, Werther, Rapper Dragon and now, Beauty Generation, wealth is seldom associated with Jungle John Moore. Must be the khaki safari suits.

The recent maths published about how much money the very successful Brazilian jockey Silvestre de Sousa has amassed during his short riding stint in Hong Kong compared to his full-time gig in the UK is nothing new.

Just speak to Tony Cruz about how far Hong Kong racing has travelled. How far he’s come from those days when he rode the mighty Co-Tack, became champion jockey, knew when to become a trainer and made some shrewd investments.

Ever been to Tony’s $130 million house with even its own karaoke lounge? Seen his fleet of Ferraris? The occasional Lamborghini. He’s worked damn hard to get to this point. He and wife Pauline now just need to go with the flow, man, and enjoy this lifestyle.

Speak to any of the top expatriate jockeys who have ridden here and they’ll tell you many stories off the record, but especially about how they made enough to get out of the game with plenty in the bank, thanks to a smart accountant and off shore accounts.

With Hong Kong’s 15-18 percent personal tax on earnings, it just sweetens the pot.

How much Douglas Whyte has accumulated during the many years he has ridden here as a champion jockey- and a Hong Kong resident- is a favourite subject discussed in the lounges of five star hotels. It’s a lot. Perhaps not as much as many think. But it’s not chump change.

No one can begrudge Whyte his success. Here’s someone who arrived in Hong Kong as an unknown jockey from Durban in South Africa and grasped every opportunity that came his way with both hands. He still does. Never looks a gift horse in the mouth. And knows when to try and make his next career move.

Add Joao Moreira and Zac Purton and Caspar Fownes and David Hayes, Brian Kan, John Size and even lesser known lights to Hong Kong’s “racing to riches” list.

Travelling under the radar, the latter still do extremely well for themselves. One very average local jockey who’s now retired even owns a cargo plane business selling Chinese preservatives to Jamaica. He’s an entrepreneur. A very successful one. There are many others- restaurateurs, horse racing “specialists”, chairmen of import export companies, advisers to certain Eastern European countries…Nice work if you can it.

As for Silvestre de Sousa, more power to him. The money will continue to come- and much more- if he moves to Hong Kong and stays here long enough to avoid paying British taxes. Does he need the UK? What for? To be Champion Jockey? Been there, done that and has the t-shirt.

A little over a year ago, an expat jockey riding here was talking about how Hong Kong is no longer attractive to top riders in the UK and Europe. Possibly then. But the scale of economics, politics, Trade Wars, Europe basically bereft of anything, especially its bankrupt horse racing industry, has suddenly brought about great changes. Forced life changes. Forced many to look towards new investments. Like in Mauritius. The Maldives. Sri Lanka. Bora Bora.

The strategically placed Hong Kong brings all this- and business opportunities in these exotic and inexpensive locations- closer to everyone. Hong Kong is a few hours away from everywhere.

Get in at the right level, stop the whining about the time it takes to get from Hong Kong to Conghua and get down on one’s knees and offer thanks for racing twice a week, not having to drive for hours to ride a couple of non winners and win a ticket to that “Rock Star” lifestyle one keeps hearing like some broken down mantra.

Inhale the red carpet treatment that includes the domestic helper, good schooling for the kids while they’re still kids, wives and girlfriends who can afford a six star Instagram postcard, and, of course, always with that carrot of low taxes to fall back on.

Step back and really look at this picture. It’s something that would have made Robin Leach blush.

It’s much much more than horse racing. For those fortunate enough to be part of the ride, it’s six star living in a business that exists nowhere else. It provides opportunities way beyond “the punt” and Men Behaving Badly in Wanchai.

Being able to be part of horse racing in Hong Kong – and this goes for even some baffling executive hires- it’s a passport to wealth. Even a doofus has a role to play. It’s how they’re played.

There’s a new conga line waiting to get in. Learn to play the game. Be inscrutable. Play your cards close to your chest.

#HongKong #HKracing #SilvestredeSousa #TonyCruz #JohnMoore #DouglasWhyte #CrazyRichAsians #wealth #lifestyle

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