The rain held off for four hours. It was enough time for many to take a much-needed break from the relentless barrage of bad news bears, hashtags and Hong Kong needing Batman to stop variations of The Joker popping up and creating chaos. When anyone holds all the aces, they’re used. Over and over again.

Attendance figures on Sunday, though slightly down, of almost 60,000 and in what is an economic downturn, a record turnover, proved that at a time of ebbs and flows and to “be like water, my friend,” horse racing in Hong Kong is an incredibly resilient bridge of sighs.

When those barriers opened, a city under siege for almost three months with protest after protest, welcomed in a new Hong Kong racing season. It was something of a dress rehearsal with September 1, 2019 signalling what promises to be one helluva competitive year and a season of change.

One big question is where, some riding here, will get the stable support to be able to ride winners.

With the major support being divided up between the Zac Attack who really is spoiled for choice and in his own zone, the closest chasing pack includes the Magic Man who’s still to get his mojo going, the Mauritian Magician, the very much in-demand Vincent Ho, Derek Leung, the claiming apprentices and, more recently, Aldo Domeyer, Grant van Niekerk and Blake Shinn certain to make his presence felt.

One only needs to look at today’s card to see jockey Alex Lai, on the comeback trail after over two years on the sidelines through injury, receiving well deserved support from many of the local trainers.

What’s glaring are the crumbs tossed to a few other riders. Hopefully, this isn’t a trend that continues as, at best, these riders could be looking at finishing around eleventh or twelfth in the jockeys table. It’s hardly a magnet for attracting good rides. It’s just making up the numbers and hardly career advancement.

What’s the solution?

On a very different note- a sharp that could be a flat- the question is whether Betfair Australia, with its parental ties to the “dry cleaning” problems ailing Crown Resorts, will be able to continue offering its customers a free pass to bet on the Hong Kong races, something the company started last weekend. It’s that or singing, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”.

And what of the races last Sunday? It only seemed right that the first race was a close finish between the Zac Attack and the Magic Man, who had a frustrating day of outs, with the former winning the season opener. That’s good feng shui and augurs well for the rest of the season.

It was great theatre and a very different show to thirteen consecutive weekends of protests that have to turned into a multi-headed beast of burden pummelling an arrogantly naive Chief Executive ill-equipped to tame it.

Of course, it’s well-known by now that multiple winning champion Hong Kong jockey Douglas Whyte, and now a first season trainer, saddled up his first winner with only his second runner. Was everyone happy with this win? Not really. Old wounds never heal. Anyhooooooo…

Though Alberto Sanna gave his first runner- Le Panache- a good ride, it was the underused Regan Bayliss who wrote himself into Hong Kong racing’s history books by winning aboard Whyte’s somewhat slight looking Adonis with an excellent ride- and according to very specific instructions from the shrewd former champion rider. It was Sorcerer and Apprentice stuff. But enough of this. It’s a story repeated enough times.

Meanwhile, with his mother in town, Blake Shinn, might not have ridden a winner last Sunday as many racing fans in Australia thought would simply be a given, but his four placings on a couple of relative long shots showed that the first winner is just around the corner. Like today.

In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if Shinn rides even winners this afternoon- Exponents (6) in the first, possibly a squeak in race 5 on Proud Sky (3) in a competitive looking race where the booking of Neil Callan for the Caspar Fownes-trained Gunnar (5) catches the eye, Dragon General (1) in the eighth, and probably his best chance of all, Winner Supreme in race 9. All are trained by Me Tsui, and all take their places in three dirt races, a surface on which the trainer has an impressive strike rate.

Let’s also not forgotten that Blake Shinn has ridden in America- and on dirt tracks and against American riders who excel at riding on this surface. One really doubts that this fact is not unknown to trainer Me Tsui. Duh.

Looking back again at last Sunday’s opening day, it wasn’t without a bizarre momentum.

This happened when Aldo Domeyer completed a double for trainer for Tony Cruz on Sunshine Warrior, but not before suffering from severe brain freeze and having to survive an enquiry and a protest quite rightly fired in by Joao Moreira, who was on Casimiro, the second placed horse.

With absolutely no reason to change whip hands, Domeyer did exactly this and which must have shocked his mount so much that it suddenly came in sharply and very nearly put the Magic Man and Dylan Mo on third placed Viva Council through the inside running rail. There was no reason to penalise the winning horse for what was momentary “pilot error”.

The Stewards made the right decision when Sunshine Warrior kept the race with Domeyer extremely fortunate to get away with a four-day suspension for careless riding. It was reckless stuff.

The South African rider and Tony Cruz have combined since the tail end of last season for a number of wins, but one has to wonder what the legendary former jockey and a champion trainer thought of that ride.

Cruz ended up training a treble when speedster Multimillions won for ten-pound claiming apprentice Alfred Chan. It was a good ride by the kid and he’s someone to follow this season. He’s not going to be an apprentice for too much longer and don’t be surprised to see Tony Cruz throw his considerable support behind him.

Elsewhere, the very popular Vincent Ho continued from where he left off last season with a double and winning the day’s Jockey Challenge whereas one of our favourite riders- Derek Leung- got off the mark with a typically aggressive and strong ride aboard the Pan Sutong-owned and Richard Gibson-trained Gold Chest.

Ho and Leung are not good only as “local” jockeys. They’re very good riders. Period. They’re certainly lengths in front of a couple of expat jockeys riding in Hong Kong at the moment, and, quite rightly, are in demand by a variety of stables.

Perhaps more importantly, they’re nice guys. They don’t have their heads up their arses. It’s lonely up there. They’re not phoneys. They don’t need to go on transparent “charm offensives”. Will those who do ever learn?

One thing about Hong Kong, and no matter what business one might be in, fakery never lasts. Once exposed, all trust goes out the window.

This is especially true about the business of horse racing. When rides dry up, it usually has nothing to do with how good one might be. It often means that the likability factor is gone along with the trust factor.

As for the races today, a meeting with a few races on the all-dirt track- not our most popular spectator sport though certainly better than the recent racing at Birdsville- it looks straight forward enough on what is a pretty average looking card.

There’s nothing that really pops out like zits at odds and screams out, Mama, but there are winners to be had lurking amongst the numbers.

What numbers add up to us?

Race 1
6-2-8-1

Race 2
2-1-4-6

Race 3
12-5-14-13

Race 4
6-1-7-5

Race 5
5-6-1-4

Race 6
10-9-4-7

Race 7
2-8-11-6

Race 8
2-3-5-9

Race 9
4-6-8-2

Race 10
12-11-2-10