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
Visit Hans-Ebert.com

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.

Continue reading “TWITTER AND HORSE RACING: HAS IT RUN ITS COURSE?”

Where and when the Hong Kong music scene lost its way…

By Hans Ebert
Visit Hans-Ebert.com

Hong Kong has been Canto Popped and Jazzified. When it comes to music and something remotely approaching a music scene, there’s no middle ground. One is in one camp or the other. Rock was forced to roll over and disappear. There’s a sad story to why that happened.

As for where music in this city is today, and though loathe to bring ageism into this subject, what comes out in the wash is a very tired ‘look’ with the usual suspects going round and round in circles.

Let’s stop with the Lack Of Venues mantra. Why not think about the lack of musicians? Especially very good musicians. How many are there in Hong Kong? Twenty? Ten? Less? And musicians playing what?

Continue reading “Where and when the Hong Kong music scene lost its way…”

THE CHANGING FACE OF HORSE RACING IN A CONSTANTLY CHANGING WORLD

By Hans Ebert
Visit Hans-Ebert.com

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?

Continue reading “THE CHANGING FACE OF HORSE RACING IN A CONSTANTLY CHANGING WORLD”

LETTING GO

By Hans Ebert
Visit Hans-Ebert.com

For some strange reason, McCartney singing the line, “And I feel like letting go” has been playing in my head for about a week.

One can take this line positively or negatively and it takes a few rounds of mental ping pong to figure it out. There’s the need to go through a process. Perhaps it’s some form of cleansing and not holding onto things because that’s how it’s always been and Change can be difficult. And a little scary. Rather the devil you know and all that. But who wants to dance with the devil? Where’s he taking you? Or maybe he’s a she?

Continue reading “LETTING GO”

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?

Continue reading “GIDDY UP!”

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

By Hans Ebert
Visit Hans-Ebert.com

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?

Continue reading “THE GLOBAL POWER OF HORSE RACING: ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL”

THE DUMBING DOWN OF HONG KONG

By Hans Ebert
Visit Hans-Ebert.com

“There maybe many new choices, but few of these are very good. It’s why businesses keep opening and closing in Hong Kong plus many here really don’t know good from bad and usually settle for the average and are disappointed.”

It was an open ended conversation with someone in the F&B industry who felt that unless something drastic is done very soon by the government, this city is heading quickly down a very slippery slope.

Continue reading “THE DUMBING DOWN OF HONG KONG”

WHEN THE NIGHT LOST ITS FIZZ AND WENT FLAT.

By Hans Ebert
Visit Hans-Ebert.com

It’s actually on the snack menu. Meant to be enjoyed with a glass of wine or a glass of champagne. But have an order around 7pm and that’s dinner for the night. It’s on the menu of the Champagne Bar at the Grand Hyatt and comes in six pieces- basically, lobster salad with celery and a little kicker which can be eaten as a spread on toast (HK$350) Goes down a treat.

After that it was probably 9 or 10pm, the resident singer and friend Maricel was singing (except on Sundays), and the once popular 5-star bar, hardly the meeting place that it was, plodded on. Where is anything like what it was when Hong Kong today is bulging with choices? Where things get wobbly is that none of these choices are much good. But if at the Champagne Bar without any great expectations, like one of the regulars- an extremely attractive female lawyer who just wants to chill out, not be bothered by inebriated desperados, and take in the music- it’s a safe, pleasant night out. Expensive to many, but when in any five star venue of a five-star restaurant does one not expect to pay five-star prices? This isn’t McDonald’s.

Continue reading “WHEN THE NIGHT LOST ITS FIZZ AND WENT FLAT.”

THE TIFFIN LOUNGE: IT’S BACK AND IN FASHION

By Hans Ebert
Visit Hans-Ebert.com

Unlike high tea at the Peninsula Hotel, it’s not about sitting around people watching and just to say you’ve been there.

It’s not about rubbing shoulder pads with the resident Dynasty tai tais, spotting the uptown funk ladies looking for very big fish, the rich and the kinda famous wanting to be seen, and those travelling through Hong Kong and needing to talk business in a 5-star setting to often just keep up pretences. Fabulous!

Continue reading “THE TIFFIN LOUNGE: IT’S BACK AND IN FASHION”