It’s more like a dress rehearsal today. The horse racing at Sha Tin. It’s impossible to hurl one’s self into anything with any great confidence. Except stating the obvious: Champion jockey Zac Purton, below, will ride a couple of winners. At least.
Champion trainer John Size will not lead in any winners. Why? He doesn’t have any runners. These early season meetings are when Size doesn’t matter. He’s chilling with Dylan. As for the card? Ho hum. Trying to pick winners? Make it a trial run.
Douglas Whyte was the first person to bring him to my attention. It was about eight years ago. “This kid is very good,” said the champion South African rider. “He’s got great hands and certainly has potential. My only concern is that he’s already a tall boy. This might work against him.” It hasn’t.
During the off season, the HKJC sent now 30 year old Derek Leung to France to gain more experience by working for the great trainer Andre Fabre. One understands that Fabre, too, commented on the Hong Kong born rider’s hands. He also mentioned the rider’s attitude. Positive and always willing to learn.
In every industry it’s about expanding the customer base. Retaining the current market and expanding it. Always expanding it. It’s business 101. Marketing 101. Do those in leadership roles in horse racing lose sight of this? And its importance? Too often. And the racing media? How does it help spread the word? Improve the perception? Could there possibly be a new-fashioned entertainment media waiting in the wings to take horse racing beyond where it’s going now? Hmmmmm.
While many are second guessing who will be John Size’s Go To jockey next season after Hong Kong having said sayonara to the magic and charisma of Joao Moreira, let’s not forget Tony Cruz and all the strings in his bow.
Perhaps not overlooked so much as sometimes being taken for granted as a champion trainer despite everything he’s achieved with champion horses like Bullish Luck, Egyptian Ra, California Memory and the great Silent Witness while waiting in the wings right now are Time Warp, Exultant and Pakistan Star, here’s someone both respected and feared by jockeys, because he’s been there. He set the bar. He knows the ins and outs of the game. He’s been in it and at it long enough.
The fire in his belly might have never left as he’s certainly not someone to roll over and become another Yesterday’s Man, but the Chinese racing media has been abuzz of late about the persuasive powers of jockey Douglas Whyte working overtime during track work these days.
As anyone who’s watched his winning rides of Star Shine and on Kiram on Wednesday will testify to, the Durban Demon has woken up from, most likely, a self imposed hiatus where he stood back and checked out the lay of the land. Timing is everything.
It was always on the cards, but it’s still tough to absorb and accept. Around two years ago or a bit longer, one heard about Joao Moreira studying reading and writing Japanese, prerequisites to obtaining a permanent license to ride in Japan as a foreign jockey, something Christophe Lemaire and Mirco Demuro had to do before being accepted by the JRA.
It was after the races at Sha Tin and I was at a hotel lounge surrounded by mainly expats wearing bow ties and talking loudly about “the locals”. Nothing wrong with this and power to the bow tie and the expat lifestyle enjoyed in Hong Kong with its expat packages and fringe benefits. Or is there?
“It’s a given”. “It’s a moral”. “All Tommy needs to do is just sit on him”. “He just needs to be ridden on a long rein.”
For the last week, that’s all many have heard about how Pakistan Star will win the Champions and Chater Cup this afternoon with new race rider Tommy Berry aboard and who’s twice trialled one of the fascinating horses we have come across.
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.”
Yeah, yeah, Pakistan Star won his 1000 metre trial with Tommy Berry aboard earlier today, and with Silvestre de Sousa set to ride the galloper in the 1600m QE11 Cup. We’re not going to be part of another round of hype. A trial is not a race. Okay? How many trials has Pakistan Star won or passed? How many races has he wanted to win?
What we have always wondered out aloud is instead of these bans, tedious trials and jockeys merry-go-round, why, undoubtedly a talented galloper with a mind of his own, couldn’t just be reunited with his original jockey- Matthew Chadwick? Did Chadwick ever have to resort to flogging Pakistan Star? Don’t think so.
Surely all his antics AFTER Chadwick lost the ride following an unexpected loss has seen the galloper become so erratic and stubborn that even a chain reaction of so much of everything to mend his waywardness including The Horse Whisperer being brought to Hong Kong to work the oracle, has NOT brought about any real change. If it had there would have been no need for today’s trial in order to receive another passing grade to race again.