By Hans Ebert

Normally at a July 1 Reunification Day race meeting, one would expect to have Hong Kong’s Chief Executive make an appearance, smile, wave to the throngs and present the Reunification Cup to the winner of the race.

These, however, are not “normal” times in Hong Kong where protesters and protests are “trending”. “Business as usual” has virtually come to a standstill. Roadblocks, traffic having to be diverted, police almost being held hostage and unable to answer emergency headquarters with tourism being affected doesn’t help. It hinders everything. For some, even getting to the races.

There’s a great deal of naïveté going on cheered on by those afflicted by even more naivety, especially political boffins and opportunists on social media. The only real journalism about what’s REALLY going on is coming from Alex Lo in the SCMP. Naive is a word he uses often.

More protests are planned for today whereas Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, other than having a morale-boosting meeting with the HK Police Union on Thursday, hasn’t been seen in public for days. This is leadership?

When she does finally surface and has to face the music, it won’t exactly be Pharrell Williams singing “Happy”. It will be a requiem. Lam will never ever resign. She has the backing of Beijing, and on Saturday, received the important support of business leaders.

Carrie Lam might be told by Beijing to carry on regardless as Chief Executive, but to say that she has lost the confidence of the Hong Kong people would be an understatement.

Whereas former Chief Executive CY Leung was a much despised “leader” with a questionable background who dealt with the wrath of the Umbrella Movement by also going underground, Carrie Lam remains Hong Kong’s worst nightmare because of her arrogance. Because of her inability to listen. That these protests have morphed into something much more than the contentious extradition bill which should have been immediately scrapped instead of giving everything the time and oxygen to manifest itself into something unrecognisable.

How Carrie Lam can continue to even pretend to “lead” Hong Kong is impossible to comprehend. She’s done nothing for Hong Kong to return the city to some form of normality. How can she when she’s in hiding?

The government might decide to send a representative to today’s races at Sha Tin, but let’s hope not. This particular government is littered with duffers. No substitutes will be accepted.

If there’s much going on in Hong Kong and the internal workings of a befuddled government, there are, supposedly, some interesting changes brewing within the hallowed halls of the HKJC headquarters at 1 Sports Road.

If one is to believe what’s being openly discussed these days, and with much of this talk actually emanating from 1 Sports Road, some of these changes are to be applauded.

Whether having found a new gig, contracts not being renewed, or else finally being asked to leave despite their Use By Date having passed many moons ago is terrific news. There’s nothing like a new broom to start afresh, but knowing where to look to ring in the changes.

Far more important, like Where In The World Is Carmen Santiago, is who in the world can replace HKJC Chief Executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges when he decides to sing, Time To Say Goodbye? Let’s answer that: No one.

No one has his knowledge of not only horse racing, but all other aspects of wagering, how the HKJC Charities Trust works in tandem with everything else, has the people skills and internationalism to lead an organisation that’s much more than a racing club. It’s a multilayered role that’s unlike running any other business anywhere in the world.

There’s no one out there and certainly no one at 1 Sports Road capable enough to have the baton passed to them. The baton is too heavy, much too complex and too much of a hot potato, especially at this juncture in Hong Kong’s history where timing is everything.

This is not to say that “E.B” is leaving anytime soon. Not that one knows of anyway. But that day will eventually come. Life isn’t a song by Irene Cara about Fame and how “we’re gonna live forever”.

While the HKJC seems set for that revolving door to be working overtime, when it comes to racing news, Zac Purton will be the latest rider to try and “get to the bottom” of Pakistan Star- apparently in a sprint.

Remember Pakistan Star? The “viral sensation”? If the galloper who simply doesn’t wish to race other horses finds a sprint not to be his liking, don’t be surprised to see him tackle…dirt racing.

Meanwhile, though he’s supported Karis Teetan this season, the relationship between the Mauritian Magician and trainer Tony Cruz appears to have hit a few icebergs in recent weeks.

For at least today’s meeting, Cruz has thrown his support behind Brazilian rider Vagner Borges, pictured below, who’s here for the few remaining meetings this season.

Could he be back next season? Guess it depends on how he performs in the next few meetings.

Borges, referred to as being “precocious” in the press releases- not exactly a complement- has three rides for Cruz with possibly Circuit Hassler in the last being his best chance to ride a winner. General Sherman in the race earlier is also not without a chance.

From a long term point of view, the name mentioned who will take over most of the reins in the Cruz yard is new boy Aldo Domeyer.

The South African rider has had the odd ride for the sometimes equally odd “Putha Man”, but don’t be surprised to see more and more rides from the stable going to Domeyer who should ride the first winner of the day- Victoriam.

The rider is still going through a very quick learning curve, but, like his friend and countryman Grant van Niekerk, there’s something of an X factor about them.

This X factor is something Joao Moreira once had, but, who, since his return from Japan, has shown only flashes of those magical days when it was a one-man show.

Perhaps when he returns as a Club jockey next season, normal Magic Man transmission will resume.

Right here and now and listening to owners and the rank and file punter, the new poster boy of Hong Kong racing is Grant van Niekerk, who, by the way, celebrated his birthday yesterday.

Some riders won’t like to hear this, but, just as hips don’t lie, neither do facts, figures and strike rates.

At Shatin today, he has another pretty good book of rides including a couple more for John Moore for whom he won aboard Earth Trilogy last Sunday on his way to a treble, his first Group winner in Hong Kong and taking out the Jockey Challenge. On Wednesday night at Happy Valley, he kept his strike rate going with another winner.

As always, Zac Purton has a good book of rides including Aethero though a commitment to the very good Big Party, sees the plum ride on Thanks Forever, another exciting young sprinter from the John Moore stable, going to Karis Teetan. The clash between these two boom sprinters- and Purton and Teetan- is the highlight of today’s card.

Certain to have cameras clicking, meanwhile, will be the on course appearance of former background dancer and now Canto Pop superstar Aaron Kwok who’ll be present to watch his latest purchase and last start winner in the Caspar Fownes trained Dancing Fighter make his long awaited reappearance after a slight setback.

Having spent time chilling in Conghua, the galloper lines up in the third race that’s over 1000 metres where he’s drawn barrier 3 and has The Zac Attack aboard.

Though Fownes doesn’t feel Dancing Fighter is at his best yet, he still thinks the galloper is too good for this field. But these 1000 metre sprints down the Shatin straight can often not go according to plan, especially when gallopers are drawn a low barrier like number three. It’s a decent race to watch or have as one of the legs of a multi win bet on 3-4 of Zac Purton’s rides. And if Dancing Fighter wins, whoa, prepare for a fabulous love fest.

As for the other races, as always, the last looks very competitive. Zac Purton riding a first starter for Caspar Fownes doesn’t help narrow things down.

The ninth race over 2000 metres is certain to have someone making a lightning fast move like a bat out of hell a long way from home and try to steal it. This has become a trend. And often not a good one. Races 1,2,4 and 5 could offer value.

Next season promises to be one of Change, and, depending on the mood of the city and how it recovers from the current body blows to its image, the face of Hong Kong racing looks set to change- and for the better.

On course, the duopoly of Zac Purton and Joao Moreira will continue though expect far more competition from Blake Shinn, Aldo Domeyer, Vincent Ho, Grant van Niekerk and the return of Silvestre de Sousa.

For those complaining about the standard of trainers in Hong Kong, let’s not forget that Douglas Whyte makes his debut as a trainer. Surely this is a positive move? It could even be a game changer.

Also to look forward to are the exciting young private purchases already here and and quite a few others heading to Hong Kong.

The trainers seemingly having the best ammunition for the future are John Moore and Frankie Lor with the most expensive purchase at the recent International HKJC Sales going to John Size. There’s then the question of what Douglas Whyte has bought for his owners.

No one is ever going to be completely happy. Trainers will continue to be unhappy about especially some of the apprentices whereas riders will be unhappy with the quality of some of the trainers. It’s a silly dance that helps no one.

With the supposed retirement of John Moore, how this will play out will be interesting. If Moore, who has at least four winning chances today, comes close to catching current leader John Size, the HKJC insisting on his compulsory retirement might require the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon to come to an amicable agreement.

What’s key however is that this is Hong Kong. It’s made many in horse racing- not only the leading riders and trainers-extremely wealthy and able to enjoy a lifestyle many could never enjoy “back home”.

The HKJC, meanwhile, under the leadership of “E.B”, no doubt has other plans for the Conghua training centre. This season has seen how it’s become a much needed “wellness centre” for horses and has provided trainers with world class facilities totally unique to horse racing.


Bottom line: If there’s a keyword for next season, it would probably be “balance”. And on this special Reunification Day, one hopes that there’s more of a united front put forward between the HKJC and the racing fraternity.

There’s so much about horse racing in Hong Kong to be proud of- the most international group of jockeys and trainers, two race meetings a week at two of the most unique racecourses in the world and the most successful racing club that’s more than a racing club.

The pride in this Made In Hong Kong product can travel far. If this could happen, it will speak volumes for a city that’s found itself again. Now THIS is worth making a song and dance about.

#HKracing #HKJC #Hongkong #horseracing #CarrieLam #WinfriedEngelbrechtBresges #HansEbert