By Hans Ebert

It’s tough explaining horse racing to non-believers. Or to sceptics. You know, those who have already labelled horse racing as “cruel” and make you riddled with guilt for enjoying the pastime. How horse racing is a guilty pleasure. Something that cannot be enjoyed without there being strings attached. Something to keep under wraps. That doesn’t always work out. One gets found out.

Guess it’s like music. Those who refuse to admit that they’re swimming against the tide and not embracing the singers, bands and songs that one is supposed to just to be accepted. It’s like movies, too. Did I enjoy “Bohemian Rhapsody” and remake of the remake of “A Star Is Born”? No. And cannot stomach the song “Shallow” just as much as never having been a Dead Head nor part of the Woodstock Generation. It’s called individuality. Freedom of choice. Don’t follow leaders and watch your parking meters.

When married, just as when a teenager and needing to go “out of bounds” without restrictions and the approval of one’s parents, going horse racing and being with those in horse racing was something some of us had to hide. Especially going horse racing in Macau which was one very long Boys Night Out. It could have been part of The Hangover franchise.

To those marketing horse racing in Hong Kong and whose job it is to broaden its customer base, they somehow need to factor in all these back stories that keep knocking on the doors of many memory banks.

There’s much to be learned from what once was in order to bring about change, especially in what is today a very cluttered world with so much of everything and everyone screaming for attention. Got an Instagram account? Seen some of the embarrassing self-promotion? Why?

In Hong Kong, horse racing has travelled a million miles from what it once was.

Somehow, this journey must always serve as a reminder. Like building blocks. Like how without a champion galloper like Silent Witness, there might not be a Beauty Generation. Or a Waikuku.

How racing only on a Saturday afternoon led to a new racecourse in Sha Tin and how those eight races at Happy Valley on a Saturday afternoon have morphed into the Happy Wednesday experience.

These are history lessons. Hong Kong history lessons.

What was horse racing in Hong Kong like? In a word, small. But despite no farms and very little appreciation for horses and those who were born to ride, some in horse racing arrived from Shanghai and Australia and the UK and decided to put down roots in what was then colonial and frightfully pukka Hong Kong.

Horse racing in Hong Kong was a pastime for many – three hours on a weekend to keep people busy. To many, it still is. A necessary distraction.

Back in the day, to some, horse racing was about walking that fine line between being legal and illegal. It was flirting with danger.

Jockeys were outlaws with the romanticism and sense of adventure reserved for characters like Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, Doc Holliday and the entire cast of “Bonanza”. Except Hop Sing.

For some girls I knew in Hong Kong, going out with a jockey was as “bad” as going out with a musician. Both were never good enough. It was kinda like “stop this craziness and marry your own kind”. Again, however, it was flirting with danger. Something exciting.

If the HKJC were to dig deep into Hong Kong’s past, they might realise how much of this hasn’t been understood. Or communicated. How by being forgotten, it’s stopping giving the city a more positive and forward looking image which morphs with the image of horse racing in 2019 and beyond.

It’s been said often enough: How horse racing in Hong Kong is unlike anywhere else in the world. And that’s because HONG KONG is like nowhere else in the world. Especially today and which is- hello- long after The Handover in 1997.

Getting out there- getting away from those corporate ivory towers and that often pedestrian thinking with its rules and regulations, and the pretentiousness of class conscious “face” are what often keeps horse racing in Hong Kong in its own little box. Boxy is not sexy.

When Paul McCartney left the Beatles, or the Beatles left Paul, he moved to his farm house in Scotland with his Lovely Linda and sheep dog Martha and recorded his first solo album playing every instrument. It was getting back to the basics and regrouping.

On “Every Night”, he sang about how he wanted to “get outta my head”. How he needed to stop being Beatle Paul.

Though happy enough with where I am today, there’s also the feeling of being comfortably numb. Of simply “going with the flow” and not being inquisitive and brave enough to create The New. To simply follow the herd and worry too much what others might think and say. And so you live in a bubble. Don’t get out of your head.

This has forced me to discover and rediscover- and very key- understand the new Hong Kong and its mix of thirtysomething entrepreneurs and consumers who are NOT on social media, but are instead busy trying to make a difference by creating a sense of community. How we’re all different. But we’re also the same with empathy and creativity and drive and new businesses often being the common denominators.

Some might be richer than others. But this is in that material world. That world in Hong Kong that’s created and keeps creating the Greater Divide between the Haves and the Have Nots.

To get away from this is has been the motivation to create the series Mix and document these changes. Through sight and sound and new content without the safety net of a script.

Getting out of safety zones and meeting those who don’t think the same but who are all part of Hong Kong’s history unfolding right in front of my eyes. How the blinkers have been on for too long and happy to compromise. Happy to go along for the ride.

Getting out of my head and away from the usual places and the usual suspects and the usual thinking makes one see that this city’s new creative community is bringing everything and everyone together. How horse racing must join this world. How this world isn’t going to join horse racing.

How both sides don’t know enough about each other. But how there’s definitely an interest in knowing more about each other. It’s about mixing things up to create one complete whole.

Knowing those thirtysomethings who are in every sector of this city’s creative community and seeing them meet some in horse racing, especially those jockeys who enjoy getting out there and discovering new everything, what’s obvious is that both “sides” want to understand more about each other. To perhaps break down “rules” that are holding things back. Holding Hong Kong back. And enjoying Hong Kong more.

To repeat: There’s nothing like horse racing in Hong Kong. This is because there’s no city like Hong Kong. And there’s a very much younger and more creative new Hong Kong with no preconceived notions and a genuine interest in horse racing…but to whom horse racing is not talking. Or at least, not going out there and trying to become part of this community.

When this Mix happens, very positive new things will happen. Not on Twitter and Weibo and Instagram. But where it matters most: Hong Kong’s real world.

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