By Hans Ebert

It was a strange Shootout At Sha Tin On Sunday. Kinda like a surreal Western directed by Polanski. We weren’t there. Why? There was the eerie feeling of impending doom.

This feeling came all over me like being covered in goo shot out by The Fly. The bells were tolling loud and hard that Waikuku would flop. Badly. Quasimodo was working overtime.

Being my friend’s favourite horse and the only athlete she bets on, a loss would have meant me losing out on some of life’s greatest pleasures. And so we did what almost all of Hong Kong did last Sunday: Walk over to where the happy people were and the World Big Party was going on- the HK Rugby Sevens. Good move. Right? Right?

According to script, Beauty Generation won the Chairman’s Cup, thanks to Zac Purton’s knowledge of wind conditions and giving wind problems to the chasing pack. But all these “Beauty” horses owned by the Kwok racing dynasty and the army of horses owned by the Siu family has become a two horse race that’s become, well, boring. It’s tedious predictability to those unable to get past the velvet rope. It’s like a scene from “Crazy Rich Asians”. But with bad hair.

Seeing the same two families and the usual Cling-Ons at the happy snaps Cup presentations have more than a whiff of déjà vu. Many involved in Hong Kong racing are feeling the same about these Group races being another version of duelling banjos. But money buys the best horses and with the best horses come great power. But power is seldom popular.

While Beauty Generation won and with many with us cheering on Scotland and of course, Fiji, what we saw was not just wind problems, but that impending doom mentioned earlier become a reality.

This is when after riding two winners earlier on in the day, and with a spring in his step, Joao Moreira suddenly lost all his powers. Kryptonite struck again with two raging favourites- Full Of Joy and, yes, Waikuku- tanking.

Listening to Jolting Joao being interviewed the day before, he came across as a happy, smiling, excitable enchilada stuffed with huge dollops of confidence about the chances of Full Of Joy. He wouldn’t hear of the galloper not winning for the sixth consecutive time. HE was full of joy. He was so happy he could BURST.

We love the enthusiasm, but…

This was when ten-pound claiming apprentice Alfred Chan, below, won his second race for the day on the Tony Cruz-trained California Fortune.

“Welcome, Alfred. Can I call you Alfie?”

While Joao Moreira rode Full Of Joy exuding the confidence knowing you’re on the best horse in the race and looked pretty, Alfie seemed to be answering the line to the song, “What’s it all about?”.

Forget about sitting pretty. It was about never stopping to ride his horse out. If he didn’t, he probably knew the bollocking he would get from Tony Cruz for whom he was having his first ride. He wouldn’t have wanted this to be his last ride for the champion trainer.

Just when it looked like it was another win for Full Of Joy and ridden out hands and heels for a short but decisive win, came the big Whoopsie. Overtaking California Fortune was a bridge too far for the gallant galloper.

Was it the weight swing or over-confidence? A $1.40 favourite going down- one ridden by a former champion jockey and the other carrying a young rider having only his third ride in Hong Kong? It was a bitter pill to swallow.

It was then onto the next race and another run for Waikuku. Let’s just say, that the galloper never ever looked like even running into the first four.

What many of us saw was a horse that seemed to be saying, “Enough! I need a break!”

Thankfully those at Sha Tin were able to see the Zac Attack ride a four timer by calmly extricating himself and Noble Steed from an obstacle course and weave their way to victory. It was another brilliant ride from, yes, the world’s best rider. Better than Ryan Moore? Yes. Definitely more consistent. Don’t agree? Fine.

Forget about Yeezy’s “soft hands”. It’s also about his balance and innate ability to get the most out of his rides looking straight ahead and pushing them forward with minimal use of “the persuader”. Like Douglas Whyte in his prime, there’s no sign of panic. He’s chilled.

Panic just might have got the better of new boys Martin Harley and Regan Bayliss. It was a tough welcome to Hong Kong racing which is no walk in the park.

Still to attract trainers willing to offer them good winning chances, there they were on Sunday which looked like being their birthdays. Alas someone blew out the candles. There’s always a party pooper.

Martin Harley lost on one of the biggest tips of the season- Silver Fig for trainer Tony Millard. “Millie” must have imploded watching the Irishman run into various problems and come third. It was a certainty beaten.

Silver Fig looked a dead set quinella with Bayliss on Diamond Brilliance, an unlucky second to the Size-Moreira first starter War Lord, drawn barrier 14 and winning at 12 to 1.

Riding Ezra, again for “Millie”, well chances of even running a place went out the window when it was slow into stride and Bayliss had no option but to settle his ride at the back of the field. Ezra was another huge tip and the second favourite in the race.

To rub salt into the wound, the race was won by Win Win, ridden into second place by Bayliss at its last start, and benefitting on Sunday from a peerless ride by Mr Soft Hands. Kaka happens.

But it wasn’t all gloom and doom. The very underrated Rattan won the Sprint Cup for Chad Schofield and trainer Richard Gibson by beating favourites Mr Stunning and Beat The Clock.

The former was having the services of Zac Purton after the puzzling group of owners who seem to enjoy playing musical chairs decided to take the ride away from Karis Teetan. Pourquoi? The usual merde about wanting a “change of luck”.

Well, they got it, but not in the way they thought. Mr Stunning showed no shine and looked a beaten force a long way out. So did Beat The Clock. More wind problems? Maybe. Just maybe. Will Mr Stunning feel soft hands again? That depends on what other opportunities might come the way of Zac Purton.

As for Chad Schofield, he and Rattan had no such wind problems. They went with the flow and won.

To bring about closure and as is usually the case, the back story of this race spilled over onto that more and more weird emoji driven place called Twitter.

We have no idea about soft hands, but some people who should know better really have way too much time on their hands. It’s not a good look. For anyone.

#HKracing #HKJC #BeautyGeneration #ZacPurton #Waikuku #JoaoMoreira #horseracing #softhands #MrStunning #AlfredChan