By Hans Ebert

Yes, there are those who wonder why the HKJC persist with these pretty average annual Hong Kong versus Macau race meetings where, more often than not, Hong Kong enters its second stringers and they’re still too good for the best Dad’s Army that’s racing in the former Portuguese colony can cobble together.

Well, one guesses, there’s some sense of “history” and about being a good neighbour. Maybe. Plus turnover could surprise many.

Let’s also not forget that many who race horses in Hong Kong and are not part of the Siu and Kwok racing duopoly and have strong business ties with Macau and keep many of this city’s lower class races alive and kinda okay in Classes 4 and 5.

Not for them is the chance to pay over-the-top prices for Australia, New Zealand and South Africa’s best and have these trained by the firm of Size, Moore and now, the newest partner, Lor.

No, their modest purchases almost always go to trainers Peter Ho, Manfred KL Man, Michael Chang, Francis Lui and other lower lights of the racing totem pole with the rides going to the Tontos of the Hong Kong riding ranks- Ben So, Alvin Ng and whoever might be around and able to stomach owners like ageing showbiz fizzler Natalis Chan and his sham glam crew giving them riding instructions.

It’s hard to grasp that Natalis Chan, the one-time singer with a local pop band called the Loosers actually had a trainer’s license in Macau.

It’s all a little farcical and most longtime Hong Kong racing fans understand what’s going on, or trying to go on. It’s laughable. And stupid.

The races this afternoon serve as reminders of what racing in Macau was and could have been. Today, it’s a house of cards with a dwindling horse racing population and has been kept going despite losing money for over a decade. Hmmmmm?

The Macau Jockey Club could never ever rival Hong Kong racing, but it was kinda like dining on Lamma Island for a change instead of the pretentiousness of Petrus. It meant going downtown. But more with Screaming Lord Sutch than Petula Clark.

When the Macau Jockey Club first opened for the business of racing, everyone was invited to join. It was hardly expensive to be a member or horse owner and the original riders who rode there were not exactly horse racing’s elite. No one cared.

How could it be when the best rider in Macau was my old mate Colin Dean?

Colin Dean, who quite rightly convinced me to buy my first horse in Macau- the smallest horse there- for a paltry HK$75,000 and somehow managed to win almost fifteen races, forged a strong association with Singaporean trainer Charles Leck. It was a deadly combination…but it worked.

Also riding there at that time were Neil Paine, Simon Jones, Claude Piccione, Jose Corrales, and a better group of riders in Danny Brereton, Peter Leyshan, Declan Murphy, Tony Ives, Geoff Allendorf, Bobby Vance, Nigel Tiley, Christian Reith, Robert Heffernan, Harry Troy, Steve Arnold, Sammy Hyland, Robbie Burke whereas a few years later came Olivier Doleuze, the enigmatic Eric Saint Martin, William Mongil and what were known as the Didham Years.

This was when the original Magic Man John Didham reigned supreme for five years under the protective eye of then-trainer Bill Tung-biu, below with his most trusted jockey, who knew how it all worked and was respected and feared by all sides. John Didham as a rider? One of the best. As a friend? Even better.

With things starting to lose its gloss and the invasion of the bookie snatches plus a racing club becoming a law unto itself and getting rid of those who fell out of grace with those “upstairs” by winning when they shouldn’t have and losing their licenses, there was a need for the MJC to enhance its image.

The answer? Promote the marquee value of bringing in former “disgraced” jockey Gary Moore back from the wilderness along with the clout of the great George Moore Sr.

The happily retired George Moore would do anything for his favourite son. Gary could still certainly ride, and Mr Moore could train, but these weren’t those Moore Years that existed in Hong Kong and which would be trumpeted by the family’s unofficial PR man in racing writer for the STAR tabloid John Hardie. He was a strange kettle of halibut.

Macau racing didn’t come close to the turnover and style and the often bloated pomposity of Hong Kong racing, but it was fun. It was relaxing and as James Brown sang, It was a man’s, man’s, man’s world.

During those long weekends going racing and going out wide before the races made The Hangover series look tame.

Here was the Wild East- everything from hitting the lottery at Darling and Club De China to trolling through the arcade of the Lisboa Hotel before hitting the club at the Mandarin where everyone congregated to see what else was going on. There was plenty going on and enough of a buffet for everyone.

There was then, as it still is today, the brilliant Macanese and Portuguese cuisine available at the restaurants like Fernando’s known to everyone along with some hidden gems. Garlic clams, mussels, prawns with freshly baked bread, codfish balls, Portuguese Chicken Curry, African Chicken and pitches of sangria. All was part of lunch or dinner or tea before going wherever the mood took us.

The racing was secondary and often times, goofy- like the antics of Gary Moore, first when a jockey and then trainer. As a jockey, he would throw his riding boots into the crowd without realising that he needed them for the next race.

As a trainer, there was the sartorial splendour of his jackets which were often inspired by the uniforms of the doormen at the Mandarin Oriental. He kissed jockeys when they won for him, he jumped on the winning horses, and there was his unabashed fawning over his biggest owner and extremely powerful casino mogul Stanley Ho who raced, amongst others, the great Viva Pataca in Hong Kong.

It was for Stanley Ho that Gary Moore won the Hong Kong leg of one of these “interports” when Viva Pronto won at over 100 to 1 with the quinella formed by a runner trained by brother John.

Where’s Stanley Ho these days? Apparently in Macau where he’s been “ailing” for over a decade. Viva Pataca was taken out of retirement in Australia to be close to him.

When Stanley Ho finally goes, be prepared for a huge fallout and fight for power between his four wives, his many children and his grand children and great grand children.

There’s a huge dynasty at stake and Stanley Ho has always made plans to ensure who gets what and who gets squat. He’s quite an incredible human being.

Getting back to the horse racing, marriages imploded in Macau’s racing colony with great frequency and there were some strange sights unveiled at Taipa.

One was seeing a reasonably good jockey- married and with his pregnant wife back home- parade his Russian conquest in front of all the other jockeys wives on a race day afternoon. Not smart.

A platinum blonde in a mini skirt and thigh high silver boots, her arrival on the fourth floor of the MJC was akin to the sinking of the Titanic. The other wives might have even waved garlic necklaces to keep the evil spirits away.

As for the jockey, who’s still riding and based in Queensland, he’d never had it so good. Hardly an oil painting, he was just happy to show off his Rembrandt. He returned to Australia and his forgiving wife soon after this incident. He had seen the harsh realities of life.

To some, there will be some familiar names riding for Team Macau today. Quite a few have ridden in Hong Kong before.

For one reason or another, they were forced to start afresh in Macau when the doors shut in their faces in Hong Kong.

For example, there’s Peter WL Ho, below, once a gifted young rider here and the brother in law of Frankie Lor. He rides Super Missile for Lor today and has also been given a ride by Macau-born Tony Cruz and a number of other trainers.

What some might not know is that Frankie Lor, Jimmy Ting, Peter Ho, Horace Lam who rides Wichita Linesman in the big race for Macau, KL Man, Francis Lui and, of course, Tony Cruz, all rode in Hong Kong- and sometimes against each other. Some of these names are very lucky to have received trainers licenses in Hong Kong.

Offering outside rides to Horace Lam and Peter Ho, who’s on the former Chris Waller trained The Alfonso for Macau where he’s trained by the very much underrated Joe Lau- the horse seems to have been racing for two decades- is showing some “brotherly love”. Helping out amigos.

Who’ll win the Hong Kong Macau Trophy? Probably the John Moore trained Good Standing with strong competition coming from Mission Tycoon, Lean Perfection and perhaps even Born In China.

Will it be great racing? One doubts it. But turnover could be surprisingly high and it will be interesting to those who know the in’s and outs of Hong Kong racing and just how lucky some are to be here and be driving the latest Jaguar and living a five star lifestyle and running other businesses despite hardly known for training or riding winners.

#HKracing #MJC #Macau #Macauracing #HKJC #StanleyHo #JohnDidham