It doesn’t mater what’s written in English about horse racing. The sport is Hong Kong’s national pastime- and so are all the rumours and gossip that surrounds it. One blistering piece in, for example, the racing pages of Apple Daily can sink many careers and result in overnight stable changes. What many outside of Hong Kong realize is what the avid and hardcore local racing fan wants to know. Tips, tipsters, eh- they have their systems for winning. Simple hard news? Nah, way too boring. No, like the Hong Kong entertainment industry, these racing pages thrive on gossip and are littered with conspiracy theories.
Jockeys like Douglas Whyte and Brett Prebble must know by now that every one of their rides, when scrutinized by newspapers with the circulation of an Apple Daily or a Sing Tao Daily, can add to their already existing pressures of riding and working in Hong Kong. But with great power comes greater responsibility and the ability and personality to let it all roll off like water off a duck’s back.
Trainers know that one innuendo reported, whether true, false or the reporter stirring up a hornets net, can result in a dangerous game of Chinese Whispers and which can result in a horse being moved to a new home or a rider being jocked off.
Over the past few weeks, we have been trying to understand local racing writers and have come away with more “news” than our ears could take. This “news”, we can take with a pinch of salt, but what we liked hearing was who these writers actually “rate”- and who they don’t- and have tried to figure out why.
Yes, we guess it’s another list of Awards, but these come from a very local angle and where once an “image” has either been concocted as someone might have a grudge to settle- like losing a bet because they think the jockey was “not trying” or they simply don’t like the person’s face. Face, baby, in Hong Kong, it’s all about face. Without “face”, one is an arse and a knob. Or both.
Of course, we know racing writers in Oz, NZ and the UK who are “in the pockets” of many, but these are often racing executives who need to spin some yarn to ensure that their junkets can still go on and that they continue to live the lifestyle to which they are comfortable. Hong Kong’s local racing journalists simply like the power- and the free dinners and lunches and whatever is given to them by way of “Thanks.” It’s the same “exacting” science which the local tabloids use to “in” and “out” Hong Kong’s showbiz world and which is why the handlers of singers, actors and actresses, are forever entertaining the “media”- mainly one or two local entertainment writers- in great fear. These people are the TMZ of Hong Kong who have recently found new prey: once untouchable Hong Kong’s politicians and Big Business knobs.
As with anywhere in the world, gossip sells, but in Hong Kong, gossip is also a national pastime along with horse racing and all the players in this game of change. Fascinating stuff and we love it!
We also found their choices for these “awards” very enlightening as it canbe easily translated into which jockeys are followed, which jockeys and trainers suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous, not “dude-ness”, but “Ah- diiiiiuuuuu-ness” and all the other finger-pointing and “investigations” that go on and enter the lives of, for example, local trainers who, sometimes, many forget even still exist. And the things we have heard of their private lives! It would make Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” look flaccid and tepid and puritanical.
MOST POPULAR JOCKEY: ZAC PURTON
It’s taken The Zac Attack a few years to get to where he is today- easily, the Number 2 jockey in Hong Kong on the Premiership table- a table extremely hard to over-turn when Douglas Whyte has occupied the main seat for coming up to twelve consecutive years. Whereas a few short years ago, it looked like it would always be a Whyte-Prebble championship battle royale and others picking the crumbs- not unlike those days when Tony Cruz was a jockey and reined supreme with Gary Moore- The Zac Attack has made his presence felt. What is it about the jockey that appeals to these racing writers? “He always tries” was the unanimous answer which, we guess means that they feel others “don’t try.”
MOST POPULAR TRAINER: TONY CRUZ/CASPAR FOWNES
Hong Kong loves its home-grown talent and many of today’s racing writers grew up watching Tony Cruz as a Champion jockey and still remember that some even though “Cas” would not get his Trainer’s license.
Both also speak fluent Cantonese, they are open to the media, they can swear in Cantonese and, very simply put, they have no airs and graces and are LIKEABLE- something one cannot say about many other trainers. Add to this the fact that when at karaoke session, no one else can ever sing a song without one of them insisting on “harmonizing.”
THE LEGENDARY DON CORLEONE AWARD: BRIAN KAN-PING-CHEE
Brian Kan was Hong Kong’s original “Cups King” and was also the first local trainer to bring South African jockeys to Hong Kong. Let’s never forget what he and Bart Leisher achieved in Hong Kong- South African Leisher almost being the forgotten man of Hong Kong racing and who was so darn popular in Hong Kong before a fall stopped his career for a while and after which he made a comeback back home.
As for Brian Kan, despite his various scandals- an alleged rape charge, alleged corruption charges and now being some kinda co-trainer in Macau, every time he sets foot at Shatin and dressed as if he was one of Don Corleone’s henchmen and waves at the crowd, there’s almost a Mexican Yes, We Kan wave and with many in the media coming to kiss his ring. And, good gawd, how he thrives on all the attention. Brian Kan is no has-been. He is a bloody local icon. Obama’s Yes We Can line actually came from Brian Kan’s approach to training winners: Yes, I Kan.
THE DIRTY OLD MEN AWARD: TRAINERS DANNY SHUM AND ANDY LEUNG
Remember Andy Leung? Remember that he’s still training? Remember how he suddenly discovered that he was one year younger than the HKJC thought and which one more year before he reaches that age for compulsory retirement and heads to new pastures. Both Danny Shum and “The Dorian Grey of Hong Kong racing” who seems to borrow jackets from waiters in five-star restaurants, have both had their fair share of sexual scandals with various ladies. You know what they say about an old fool and how there’s no fool like an old fool.
THE PROFESSIONAL AWARD
The local racing media have a love/hate relationship with DW Whyte: They love him when he bangs in 4-5 winners and they hate him when he loses on those short and curlies and when he rides “only 1-2 winners”. Yes, they blow hot and cold over the champion jockey, but always know that him winning 111- and soon, 12- Jockey Premierships cannot be down to “luck” or “good fung shui.” It’s all about getting out there and working it- on and off the track like any very good PR man and being very focused in his pursuits. It’s like going after the ride on Dominant when he knew that his time with “Millie” Millard and Ambitious Dragon were up.
THE MOST POPULAR OWNER: MR AND MRS STEVEN LO
He went home and ate a bowl of instant noodles after his horse Xtension won the BMW Classic Mile, he loves his horses, he blogs, he is incredibly successful, he is also down-to-earth whereas his wife, Canny, is all beauty and brains and was a very prolific lyricist whose songs are still extremely popular at any karaoke session.
Yes, Mr and Mrs. Steven Lo have it all, but don’t’ have their noses pointed skywards. The local media loves them, we respect them greatly.
THE ODD COUPLE AWARD: DAVID HALL AND BRETT PREBBLE
Forget the Hong Kong racing media, this is one helluva team to figure out whereas David Hall, trainer extraordinaire and smooth talker extraordinaire can only be admired for keeping owners despite them not backing long-priced winners. For example, the owners of last weekend’s winner Gold Tartini are said to have had not even a dollar on the 160 to 1 winner. It was, apparently, “waiting for the next time.” And who can ever forget the ‘look’ on the face of the owner of Hall’s Lue Yue Treasure when it won a few seasons ago? Ridden by MW Leung, the horse’s odd dropped from 99 to 1 to 25s in around 5 minutes while the owner was upstairs eating his congee. The “winning photo” was stalled for a few minutes while the owner and friend regained their composure and finally came downstairs to pose for this classic shot.
Incredibly, the horse is still with Hall and always only ridden by Terry CW Wong- and that’s another very weird combination of trainer and jockey.
Much has been written about Hall, especially, and Prebble, much will be written and said about them and, yes, they continue regardless and let it all roll off like water off a duck’s back.
Jeez, there are so many ducks around, aren’t there?
MOST POPULAR HORSE: SILENT WITNESS
Forget Fay Fay, Ambitious Dragon, even Champs like Good Ba Ba, Sacred Kingdom, Little Bridge and even the mighty Co-Tack, River Verdon and Silver Lining, ask any local racing writer and each of them will name Silent Witness as the best and most popular horse Hong Kong has ever seen. We couldn’t agree more. Jeez, what a horse! It was Hong Kong’s very own Black Caviar long before there was a Black Caviar and with even a song about it.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT AWARD: UMBERTO RISPOLI AND JAMES MCDONALD
Remember when young Maxime Guyon could do no wrong? Then came his annus horibilis and it all went les tits up for le garcon Francais and the Chinese racing media said “Au revoir, baby.” Enter Umberto Rispoli, first, and then, James McDonald, who have quickly become the new Pinup boys of Hong Kong racing. What we like about the Young Mac is the very mature, yet boyish way, he handles the media. This kid has all the makings of being a truly world class jockey and with the world at his feet. What the fuck does that mean, anyway? “The world at his feet”? Strange visuals come to our addled minds.
STOP PRESS ITEM!
We hear that charismatic trainer Tony “Millie” Millard, the extremely “popular” trainer with all media ‘cos of his openness and likeability, has put in for a stable jockey next season. If correct, one wonders if there might be some sorta “half season” deal struck with Umberto Rispoli who will fly out to be the fourth jockey to ride Ambitious Dragon following hot on the cooling heels of Weichong Marwing, Maxime Guyon and, of course, Douglas Whyte.