Some people just can’t help being LOUD. And at the Champagne Bar of the Grand Hyatt, it was where many LOUD people congregated during HKIR week. Many from overseas. It was tough to take.
On Sunday, after the last race at Sha Tin had been run and horse racing’s “Woodstock Generation” was heading home came a booming voice how Hong Kong racing had “found its mojo again.” Maybe it had. Maybe it was just hiding. Often, it’s all about timing. Whatever.
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.
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.
“When they asked for his support, he almost always turned them down because he had better options. Now when it’s coming to the end of the season and there are many tired horses going around and some good new ones, and he needs good rides, many won’t or can’t support him.” Oh what a tangled web we weave.
A friend in the Chinese racing media was trying to explain the sudden shift away from the usually much in-demand Joao Moreira and many trainers throwing their support behind Zac Purton as this season’s Hong Kong Jockeys Premiership comes down to a two horse race between two superb athletes.
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?
One of the highlights of the annual Hong Kong-Macau “Interport” race meetings is when a group of us lay down some sizeable bets amongst ourselves as to what outfit Angela Ho, Chairwoman of the Macau Jockey Club, might wear for the occasion.
The fourth and Most Favoured Nation Wife of Macau’s billionaire casino magnate Stanley Ho who’s being kept alive for what seems an eternity to avoid the inevitable fight amongst his wives, his children and his grand children for his massive fortune, is not exactly known for her style. Not that one thinks she gives a damn what anyone thinks.
When owners get involved in giving trainers and jockeys instructions on how to ride their horses, especially in a big Group race, the odds are that things are going to go horribly wrong. And which is what happened in the running of the Chairman’s Trophy at Sha Tin last Sunday. Too many cooks spoil the broth and all that other puff pastry stuff.
The moment one saw Karis Teetan bustling Fifty Fifty out and trying to get the usual back marker to lead at all costs, one just sat back and watched a comedy of errors take place. Forget the oddity of seeing stayer Time Warp starting the 2 to 1 favourite and the usual backing by the loyalists of Pakistan Star.
Two days earlier, a key player in sports entertainment, but with little or no interest in horse racing was offering their thoughts on the future of the sport- the main point being that the format has to change, or else there needs to be more options other than what’s offered today. This might sound sacrilegious to the old school and hardcore racing crowd, but his first thought was that there will be the day when there might be less races in a meeting without the thirty minute intervals. Of course, this is something asked by many who are new to a day at the races: Why can’t there be less time between races?
He next asked if a race meeting could “mix it up more” by having some races where only female riders competed against each other and other races where they would ride against their male counterparts. He wasn’t being sexist. Just thinking that this might have sponsorship appeal and create more on-course interest. There were other ideas, but ideas remain ideas unless being able to jump over various rules firmly in place, ignoring the joys of over-thinking and that refusal to change.