By Hans Ebert
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MOST POPULAR JOCKEY
Zac Purton aka The Zac Attack

Oh, how the pendulum has swung this season- this way and that way and back this way and sideways. At the start of the season, it looked like another walkover for Joao Moreira. With the hugely popular Kei Chiong having handed in her reins and walked away from horse racing, it was an open road for the Brazilian magic man. But behind every open road is a brick wall. This one was called Zac Purton.

When the magic kinda went poof for the Brazilian after the usually brilliant start, the Aussie went on a feeding frenzy that was scary to watch. It was like Hannibal Lechter having dinner with Clarise.

While Joao Moreira faltered and tried to find his mojo again, The Zac Attack went in for the kill by riding winner after winner and making it look supremely easy.

Trainers and especially owners saw the changing landscape transforming before their eyes as did local racing fans and almost overnight, someone else was Top Of The Pops.

Zac brought some much needed humour and cheeky arrogance to racing, but, like any good postman, it was his ability to consistently deliver that won over the very much results-driven Hong Kong racing fans.

With his performances at Happy Valley always being muddling affairs, Sha Tin, once his happy hunting grounds, suddenly became quicksand for Joao Moreira. Before one could say, WTF, there came the “shock” news that Joao Moreira was riding off into the land of the rising sun on a three month contract.

“Shock news”? It was the loudest secret for almost two years and as boring as those ridiculous rumours and even one racing writer confirming the date he was joining Godolphin. In Australia. And at the time, ride for Mr O’Shea. Please. We haven’t forgotten the name of the racing writer from Oz who wrote this “exclusive” either.

How did local racing fans take this “shock” news? Sayonara. Out of sight, out of mind. People have short memories.

And though some might have tried to energise the “battle” for the jockeys premiership, The Zac Attack had it won months ago along with the hearts and minds of local racing fans.


MOST POPULAR HORSE
Pakistan Star

Like a Sinatra song, he did it his way. He might have had a trainer, he might have had several jockeys on his back, the Horse Whisperer might have tried to speak to him, but he only listened to himself. Did Tony Cruz train him, or did he train Tony Cruz? Hmmmmm?

Pakistan Star is Bruce Lee, Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Jim Carrey and a hundred percent himself. And how the world- even the non racing world- loved him for it.

He livened up this racing season more than anyone or anything else. He gave it a personality. He gave everyone something to talk about.


THE JOAO MOREIRA AWARD
Joao Moreira

He may not be leaving on that much of a high, but it would be churlish to ignore the truly amazing feats of Joao Moreira during his years in Hong Kong.

He created records only to break them. He rode that memorable eight timer. He was the Brazilian magic man. He was giving of his time and in a race, he was often Moses parting the Red Seas.

Only a damn fool could ignore the legacy he leaves behind. Thanks for the memories, Joao!


THE FINAL SAYONARA AWARD
Furtive racing writer and fun guy Michael Cox and his bro Joao Moreira

Seldom has one story been drawn out for so many years and with every plot twist known long before they ever happened. May the ongoing bromance live long and prosper. In Japan.


THE BUTLER DID IT AWARD
Hannah Butler

As the new host of the Happy Wednesday Fashionista’s competition, the British born girlfriend of jockey Chad Schofield brought even more style and fashion to the races at Happy Valley.

Natural in front of the camera and with an easy going interview style, Hannah Butler has helped the Happy Wednesday Fashionista brand become an Instagram success, and created a career path for her where the future is so bright we’ll have to wear shades.


THE “WHAT’S IN A NAME?” AWARD
Cordyceps

Named after a kind of fungus found in mainly Nepal, and described by HKJC form analyst Paul Lally on Racing To Win, the National Geographic channel of racing programmes, as being far more potent than Viagra and Cialis combined, Cordyceps ran a mighty race at his first start finishing hard and coming third at huge odds.

Looks like he will stay all day. And so will you, stud muffin, if you were to take a daily dose.


LOSER OF THE YEAR
Twitter

It wasn’t a good year for Twitter, especially in recent weeks and months. A number of jockeys and others involved with Hong Kong racing have either given the social media platform the flick or else have become far more choosy about pressing the “Like” button and thinking once, twice and three times a lady about with whom they wish to engage.

Engaging with those one has never ever met in person and who still keep tweeting things that might have been mildly amusing a couple of years ago are now seen as annoying distractions. Many have been muted. Not because of any malice, but simply because it’s time to return to real friends in the real world and actually DO things.

It had to happen. Even Peter Pan had to grow up one day.


HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS

* The birth of Lallyisms, The Sayings Of HKJC Form Analyst And Life Coach Paul Lally.

A personal favourite was quite recently when describing the galloper Bullish Glory: “He doesn’t win out of turn. Actually, he’s never won”.

* THAT simulcast from Turffontein and Newmarket where then HKJC Racing Communications Manager and cult hero of the racing twitterverse Patrick Cummings held down the fort with a befuddled co-host Edward Sadler by basically reading out his curriculum vitae, name dropping in such a heavy handed way that ears bled and providing one of the greatest losing tipping streaks.

Postman Pat and the man with very small feet resurfaced recently back in the US as part of TIF- the Thoroughbred Ideas Foundation. No, not even Tony Montana at his most loaded would know how it all works.

* Those simulcasts featuring Graham Cunningham and John Blance. El Blanco, who could out talk anyone on the Trackside team by using three hundred words when only 5-6 were needed and breathlessly attacking his race calls on a Happy Wednesday night like Speedy Gonzales on, well, speedballs, was completely muted when next to old Graham holding sway during those simulcasts from Royal Ascot.

Let’s not mention the performance of Redkirk Warrior, the galloper we thought would not run in the first four even if Zorro rode it.

* Disappeared along with his hat, Alan Aitken, Racing Editor of the now rather baffling SCMP which has completely changed its editorial policy since being taken over by the good folks at Alibaba.

Open Sesame Street and all that, but it sure looks like the coverage of horse racing has left the building with Big Bird.

* Racing To Win, the HKJC produced answer to Thunderbirds Are Go, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Twilight Zone. The programme, hosted by The Three Amigos and a touch screen, was highly addictive and compelling viewing. Especially when completely stoned.


THE COMEBACK KID
Douglas Whyte

We don’t know how and why it happened, but we’re glad it did. Towards the tail end of the season, Douglas Whyte, suddenly seemed to find a new wind in his sails. His tail was up and that old Whyte magic that had won thirteen successive Hong Kong jockey premierships was back with a vengeance- riding winners at almost every meeting and forging an interesting albeit informal agreement (?) with John Moore and working his persuasive skills with other trainers during track work. He has the Francis KW Lui stable in the bag.

One can’t help but think back to the day when Whyte was “accidentally” put down as the rider for Moore’s Hair Trigger despite the stable’s then retained rider Tommy Berry having won on the galloper’s previous start.

To many that was a not-so subtle sign that a breakup of the Berry Moore salad was just a shot away. And it was.

As for the resurgence of Douglas Whyte, especially with the departure of Joao Moreira, he might be sniffing a chance to give Zac Purton a run for his money? Perhaps, with a license for the entire new season, it’s the year of living dangerously and rewinding the years? Perhaps it’s time to do more groundwork and prepare himself for the trainer’s license everyone seems to think is a guarantee? Perhaps it’s none of the above?


GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Kevin Egan

He had a peculiar relationship with the HKJC and was brutally honest about his opinions regarding certain jockeys and racing executives, but he was incredibly proud of Hong Kong racing and even more proud to tell anyone within earshot that he was the only person in town who could properly pronounce the name of CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges.

“How’s our German friend doing?” he would frequently ask. “He’s going to be impossible to replace. Send him my best”. And he meant it.

He was a good, loyal friend and confidante to many in the racing world- trainers like David Ferraris, jockeys going back to the days of Nigel Tiley and Brent Thomson, racing writers and, whether they care to admit it or not as he was often “the enemy” when fighting for his clients, respected by certain racing executives.

His recent sudden passing has many of us still in a state of shock. Pity he decided to slip away so quietly. But that was Kev. He never wished to burden his friends. He carried many secrets and saw much. It couldn’t have been easy going through every day with some horrendous pictures of murder cases dancing in his mind. “You get used to it, buddy,” he would say. Doubt he ever did. But it came with the territory.

As someone said, “Many are arses pretending to be good guys. Kev was a good guy some thought was an arse. But there’s nobody I’d rather have in the trenches with me and in my corner in court.” Hong Kong has lost someone special.

he term “colourful character” has way too often been overused. Kevin Egan really was a colourful character. He was very black or white.


THE J-POP EARTHQUAKE AWARD
Werther, John Moore, Johnson Chen and Hugh Bowman.

Prediction: The fantastic performance of Hong Kong’s Werther and ridden by Hughie Bowman to come second to the very very strong Mikki Rocket in the Takarazuka Kinen will be parlayed into some exciting cross-promotions and marketing between the HKJC and the JRA.

Hopefully, this will lead to a personal appearance soon in Hong Kong by Nanako Fujita where the female idol rider has a fast growing number of local racing fans- male and female. She’d be a perfect celebrity guest for the next season’s Hong Kong International Races.

As for the performance of Werther after an interrupted preparation, take a bow owner Johnson Chen, John Moore and the entire team for getting Hong Kong’s former Horse Of The Year to Japan with not even a pretty scary earthquake not enough to scare them off.


#FastTrack #HKJC #HongKonghorseracing #JoaoMoreira #DouglasWhyte #ZacPurton #HappyWednesday #KevinEgan #PaulLally #Twitter #HannahButler #PakistanStar