By Hans Ebert

These days in Hong Kong it’s like being caught up in the eye of a deadly typhoon that’s blindly hurtling forwards with, as Dylan would have said, no direction of home. Hong Kong has become Gotham City with no Batman in sight.

There’s a malevolent spirit of darkness in the air with only horse racing to offer thousands in Hong Kong some respite and shelter from the storm- a storm that screams throughout the city that it’s going to get much worse before we see the sun burn the clouds away.

Take horse racing away, and this city, once a barren rock and quickly turning into rubble to a soundtrack of the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” and “Another Brick In The Wall”, and there is nothing except for being on information and misinformation overload.

Again at Sha Tin last Sunday, it was another ten race card with simultaneous broadcasts from Korea of two pretty dire sand races. But, like Hong Kong being forced to watch its theatre of the absurd, South Korea has its own problems. Maybe, horse racing also gives thousands over there something to cheer about? A stress reliever.

On Sunday, many, including us, were forecasting a Shinn shiny Sunday. This didn’t materialise. Jockey Blake Shinn ended the day with a couple of placings and a two day suspension for careless riding. But after his remarkable comeback following a life-threatening race day accident where he broke his neck and all the rehabilitation that followed, all these are just minor bumps along the road. Staring death in the face and not blinking has made him of sterner stuff.

Shinn returned to race riding even more determined to succeed and did exactly that – and is now determined to succeed in what is the most competitive racing jurisdiction in the world.

The fact that he’s willing to put his almost god-like status as a jockey in Australia on hold makes him a wonderful ambassador for Hong Kong racing.

To now regularly compete with the world’s best, especially the duopoly of Zac Purton and Joao Moreira on the track and off it in the pursuit of securing winning rides, often means shaping a very different kind of talent to get on top of a steep learning curve.

Think Zac Purton didn’t have to go through it- and for years- before winning that first Hong Kong Jockey Championship? Of course he did. To come to Hong Kong as an unknown and compete for rides against the wily Douglas Whyte, the support system Brett Prebble had built for himself and then do battle with them on the track and alongside big name jockeys like Darren Beadman and Michael Kinane couldn’t have been easy. But he stood his ground and didn’t waver from the challenge.

Of course, these are different times, especially against the backdrop of a city under siege and going through tumultuous social upheaval whereas racing itself has never ever been more competitive.

This isn’t a “baptism of fire” for Blake Shinn. It’s reality gently slapping him in the face- and which he has accepted and sees as a challenge.

The same can be said about EVERY jockey riding here. It’s a tough gig.

Riding “numerous placings” is not okay for anyone. It’s about riding winners. It really is the difference between winning and losing. Literally. And getting that monkey off his back and riding a winner on Wednesday night would have done “new boy” Blake Shinn wonders.

Seeing him walk the length and breadth of the city track long before the first race where I don’t believe he’s ridden before was a powerful visual. It’s a crap photo below, but you get the picture.

Just to show how much that first win on a galloper not very familiar to even local racing fans- Green Despatch- and in a pretty ordinary Class 4 race means to him, Shinn took to Twitter. His followers in Australia went into overdrive immediately. In the SCMP’s racing section, the headline screamed, “Shinn breaks duck in the Valley”.

Blake Shinn aside, let’s always remember that for Alberto Sanna, Chad Schofield, Matthew Chadwick, Karis Teetan and even the mercurial Magic Man, below, to get that monkey off their backs by riding that first winner for the season last Sunday means everything in being able to move forward.

Zac Purton, Regan Bayliss, Derek Leung, Keith Yeung, Vincent Ho, Aldo Domeyer and apprentice Alfred Chan had already scored winners on opening day.

It would be daft to think that any rider is content with whatever number of placings they’ve ridden. A close second is not being first past the post.

Just as in life, it’s all about being a winner. In horse racing, especially in Hong Kong, it’s pressure cooker stuff where one is only as good as that last win.

The key is in how well one handles this success. Any sniff of egotism and walls and bridges can come crashing down.

Support systems don’t always come from trainers and owners. How one is perceived by race goers and the Chinese racing media and the likability factor are very key.

Being a jockey in Hong Kong is no stroll in the park. It’s no easy ride. Yes, the rewards are great- the apartment at Shatin Heights, schooling for the kids, a domestic helper, being able to dine in five and six star restaurants, generous owners, racing twice a week, a maximum of 17 percent tax on earnings- but gaining these often take the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and plenty of street smarts.

Of course, it can’t all be sunshine and lollipops for the HKJC. With all the unpredictability of the city to take into calculations, it’s about taking a number of steps forward yet also having fallback positions.

The fact that turnover is actually up after two race meetings in Sha Tin and one at the first Happy Wednesday this week when the Hong Kong retail sector is down by over forty percent, and the city’s two theme parks are bereft of tourists, says much. Exactly what it says remains a jigsaw puzzle.

One can only assume that law abiding Hongkongers are happy to have four hours of “downtime” for their favourite pastime instead of walking around with a fogged up head full of Prozac.

The fact that the HKJC is swimming against the tide speaks volumes for the “little people” who answer the Telebet services, those who turn up for work at the Off Course Betting Centres and all those who keep things ticking over at Sha Tin and Happy Valley.

On top of this, the HKJC has to ensure that the racing product is world class.

The announcement that Australian Hall Of Famer David Hayes will be joining the training ranks from the start of the 2020/21 racing season is a great endorsement for horse racing in Hong Kong- for today and tomorrow.

“Haysey” is a popular and highly respected trainer. He’s trained in Hong Kong before, he knows the lay of the land and was the logical choice to take over John Moore who, at 70, retires at the end of this season. Moore is a hard act to follow and one very much doubts that he’ll quietly ride off into the sunset.

David Hayes, at 57, like Douglas Whyte has done, brings something new to the training ranks including offering more opportunities to those who are not part of Hong Kong racing’s duopoly. They’ll help “spread that wealth around”.

Whyte, for example, has, in many ways, resurrected the riding career of Alberto Sanna in Hong Kong by already offering him two winning rides. Who else would have given him this opportunity so early in the season? It’s exactly what the likeable and hard working Italian needed to prove himself.

Having offered plenty of opportunities to Regan Bayliss and Chad Schofield in Melbourne, and with the latter riding better than ever-marriage must be having a positive effect on him- David Hayes is bound to give them more firepower and horsepower. They deserve it.

For the HKJC, the racing product is stronger than ever with Silvestre de Sousa and Alexis Badel set to ride here during the English off season, the training facilities in Conghua continuing to evolve and, very likely, the strongest riding ranks – and certainly the most international- ever. EVER.

The Club has irritant factors like Betfair to swat, whereas there will more than likely be less guests from overseas making it for this year’s HKIR week. But these will play out in time.

For us it’s about constantly supporting and guarding horse racing and all those who contribute towards it. Racing provides us with a stress buster. It’s a necessity to keep at least one part of Hong Kong continuing with a Business As Usual approach.

It might be over-the-top to many Hong Kong race goers, but all the support showered on Blake Shinn on Twitter by his fans in Australia is something good to see. It’s an ongoing chain reaction of positivity that started on Thursday morning and is still continuing.

We need more of it- messages of positivity in what has always been a pretty cynical city.

This need for positivity hit home when being with a longtime friend at the first Happy Wednesday meeting of the season. He hadn’t been to the races in a very long time.

We had met up with Hannah Schofield, a few jockeys and trainers before the races and were heading up to Adrenaline.

He paused, took in the uniqueness of the Happy Valley Racecourse and said, “Matey, I had forgotten just how amazing this place is- this racecourse and the vibe of being here. It’s so much part of Hong Kong. It’s bloody awesome.”

Often, we tend to forget what we have. We need constant reminding. And we all need to remind each other of the good things in life. And in horse racing. Bad news travels fast. Good news hardly ever gets off the ground.

As the song goes, Accent the positive.

#HKracing #BlakeShinn #horseracing #positivity