Why he’s (Greg) Miles ahead of the rest

By Hans Ebert
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Listening to many in the land Down Under given the task of interviewing trainers and jockeys about the chances of their rides and runners often fills some of us with a combination of embarrassment and terminal cringing.

This has to do with that very loud sound of desperation- slobbering, salivating and basic sucking up. Add begging into the mix.

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HORSE RACING AND TWITTER TROLLS: TIME TO CLIP THEIR WINGS

By Hans Ebert
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There should be a law against it. Seriously. A law against hiding behind pseudonyms and abusing people online. It’s high time to come down hard on those, and let’s here focus on horse racing, who take to Twitter and hide behind freedom of speech to tweet through their pockets with vile attacks. They should be named and shamed and banned by racing clubs.

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NICK COLUMB AND THE END OF AN ERA. AND NOW WHAT?

By Hans Ebert
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The recent passing of a friend to many of us- Nick Columb, below with friend and HKJC colleague Mark Richards- was a very loud wake up call to the horse racing industry. It signalled the end of an era.

Nick and I came from wildly different backgrounds. We became friends fairly recently and very immediately. Only now am I learning exactly what he meant to especially horse racing in Australia when Nick was flying high and changing the racing landscape forever.

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NICK COLUMB

I heard of Nick Columb long before I actually met him. Friends in Australia knew him from back in the day. My longtime friend Brent Thomson had ridden winners for him when Nick was flying high. And Nick Columb flew higher than many in horse racing in Australia with interests in real estate, exhibitions, publishing, and of course being a hugely successful racehorse owner, breeder and bon vivant.

He flew high, he made a fortune, he lost fortunes, he grew wings again and flew high again until his wings were clipped and he ended up in Myanmar.

What always bothered The Babe were the years of taunting he had to take from Nick about having given one of his gallopers “a run”. The Babe is not someone to hold a grudge. Even if he did, he would drop it at slips. Still, after over twenty years of being accused of something he never did, it bothered him. For years. And it takes an awful lot to bother the legend that is Brent Thomson. But those old wounds healed recently.

When hearing that Nick Columb had been head hunted by the HKJC to be its Senior Racing Consultant and I would be meeting him, all I heard from the land down under, especially those in horse racing, was, “Good luck”. How two very different individuals- Nick and myself-and both outspoken and opinionated in our own ways would result in a clash of the Titans.

What no one in horse racing knew was that I had heard of Nick Columb when with EMI Music. He had discovered an unknown and down on his luck cobbler and opera singer in Melbourne named Peter Brocklehurst, below, and was determined to see him succeed. This was Nick, a lover of opera, entrepreneur, and wanting to have new talent heard.

The singer’s recordings reached these ears, and despite us being impressed with this artist for our Classical Division, for reasons unknown at the time, Peter Brocklehurst never happened. And so it went on- that he and I would never get along and how Nick Columb couldn’t get along with anyone.

Stories of him telling off certain senior executives with the HKJC added to the image of a very difficult person who didn’t suffer fools gladly. What’s wrong with that? Who has time to deal with fools?

It took a few years before I finally met Nick- a giant of a man. A larger than life character in more ways than one. This was at a dinner hosted by Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the HKJC, who, knowing both of us, and with his friendship with Nick going back decades, probably wanted to throw a grenade into the restaurant and see how two les enfants terribles would get along. He needn’t have worried. Nick and I got along fine.

Being a great raconteur, of course the dinner was dominated by Nick’s many stories. There was a very different insight, for example, into the Ponzi scheme that was The Edge and supposedly run by Bill Vlahos. Supposedly. Nick is said to have seen right through it three years before everything went KABOOM.

Unanswered questions about The Edge and Bill Vlahos suddenly disappeared into thin air. What followed were the reported stories where Nick placed the blame squarely on then-Racing Minister Dennis Napthine and the reappointment of Sal Perna as the Head of Integrity, who both didn’t listen to his warnings.

Sal Perna? What does he exactly do and what’s he done and what’s he supposed to be doing right now? He comes across as one of those very special species who gets paid handsomely for doing nothing. Where exactly does Sal Perna sit at the Integrity dinner table?

As for our first dinner, Nick Columb and I talked about his friendships with people like John Messara and Alan Jones, his travels, food, his appreciation of women, and being the man who made the decision to purchase Pakistan Star from Germany for the HKJC International Sales and the challenges that lay ahead in having the enigmatic galloper fulfil his potential.

It was a great dinner. I got to know Nick, he got to know me, and we both knew where we stood. There was mutual respect.

Every day after that would come an onslaught of jokes from Nick via WhatsApp. He was also the first person to inform me that our great longtime friend- barrister Kevin Egan- had passed away in his sleep. We laid Big Kev to rest a month ago.

For the past few days, there were no jokes from Nick. The last post was a photograph of himself with daughter Raphaela in Barcelona and the message that I had lost my chance to meet her when she holidayed in Hong Kong. I had. Raphaela is stunning.

I gave Nick a call to see how he was doing. He was traveling looking for new horses. He wasn’t happy about Pakistan Star not being named Horse Of The Year, had his usual rants about a few racing executives before reminding me that though Big Kev couldn’t join us as planned, he and I were going to my birthplace- Sri Lanka- for a holiday. It was one of the few places he had never visited.

Nick Columb had a stroke while in Spain and was in a coma for almost two weeks. His daughters were flown out to be with him. They were there when Nick decided it was time to leave.

At 73, he had led an incredible life. He was like that song by Blood, Sweat and Tears called “Spinning Wheel.” It was now time to leave. He will be very much missed. A true original. He had taken on all comers. He had been to the top of the mountain. He had seen it all. Except for us never making that trip to Sri Lanka. The next time around.

RIP, big guy.

Hans

TWITTER AND HORSE RACING: HAS IT RUN ITS COURSE?

By Hans Ebert
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It was fun while it lasted. Twitter, that is. Was it only just a year ago that many in horse racing were merrily twittering away? Everything in moderation, we were taught, but all that went out the window. Everyday was tweeter than the tweet tweeted the day before. Had it become a priority in life? Tweeting?

Amongst the jockeys, those most busy on Twitter were probably the Iron Man- Neil Callan, the Zac Attack, Brenton Avdulla, Blake Shinn and Tommy Berry.

Today? Most, like Peter V’landys, The Man From The North, who joined the Twitterverse during the early days of “his” beloved Everest “concept”, seem to have withdrawn. Or at least become more selective about with whom they “engage”. Others think it’s a waste of time. An unnecessary distraction when there’s real work to be done in the real world.

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THE CHANGING FACE OF HORSE RACING IN A CONSTANTLY CHANGING WORLD

By Hans Ebert
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A friend was keeping me company as I watched the cricket test match between England and India where the latter crumbled like soggy papadums after the dismissal of their captain Virat Kohli.

We had been watching the match for three consecutive nights and it didn’t take her long to understand the rudiments of cricket. Being a lawyer, she’s no airhead. During the intervals for lunch and tea, we had talked about where to go out for dinner or a late night drink, but just how “monotonous” it all is these days. And how boring most of the people we meet can be. Negativity is contagious. Who needs it?

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GIDDY UP!

GIDDY UP!
Stuff about horse racing.


AUSTRALIAN RACING’S GAME OF THRONES SEASON DEUX AND DUH

There’s absolutely no question that in the ongoing Civil War between the North and the South to win over the hearts and minds of racing fans in Australia, the winner by many lengths is the army led by The Man From The North. After all, who’s his opposition?

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THE GLOBAL POWER OF HORSE RACING: ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL

By Hans Ebert
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Streaming. The ‘live’ streaming of any event has its pros and cons. It’s how clever one is at using streaming. The music industry considers it a blessing that has made millions for music companies. For artists, not so good, but how many realise it? Most speed read and don’t see through the fluff. Others simply don’t care. They have hulu and Netflix and life is brilliant.

Without getting into this in any great detail, how can the non-stop streaming of music on Spotify or Tidal or Tencent with no announcers- once known as disc jockeys and then VJs during the years when MTV was relevant- help introduce new talent to music fans?

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THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE AND DAYS OF FUTURE PAST OF HONG KONG RACING

By Hans Ebert
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Someone was mentioning how and what made the dragon wake up. It wasn’t a dragon so much as the Durban Demon- South African Douglas Whyte, the champion Hong Kong jockey for a record breaking thirteen consecutive seasons.

This reign, made even more remarkable as the Aussie’s support system included mainly rides from two stables, that of Dennis Yip, who somewhat surprisingly won the trainer’s championship that season, and Caspar Fownes, ended during the 2013/14 racing season when after five years of absorbing it all and fighting all the time for everything that’s not come easily since arriving in Hong Kong in 2007, Zac Purton decided that enough is enough and brought the curtain down on this phenomenal winning run.

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