By Hans Ebert

It felt eerily like the day of The Handover- the day when the British flag was neatly folded and returned with heads bowed while we watched the ‘live’ television broadcast in silence as Mainland China’s tanks rolled into the city. Even if the sky was blue, it was grey. It was like a Bill Withers song.

A friend and I were at the Grand Cafe of the Grand Hyatt when receiving the news at around 1pm that Wednesday night’s horse races were cancelled. My friend, not familiar with racing, didn’t understand what this meant, but the messages coming through on my phone showed how telling this was- the very very tough decision by the HKJC to cancel the race meeting. The Steamed Tooth Fish With Soya Sauce and Extra Ginger And Basil was brilliant as always, but the appetite to really enjoy it just wasn’t there.

Of course, the “intelligentsia” on social media had something to say about the cancellation of the race day for the sake of having something to say whereas those “village elders” who had got fat off the Hong Kong land before riding off with their bounty into the flabby arms of retired bliss, couldn’t help sending messages of “condolences”.

One horse owner from Hong Kong, hardly successful, despite his delusions of being a “lo ban”, and away on business, just had to gleefully send a message about how the races being cancelled could have been avoided along with his trademark emoji of laughing hysterically.

There was nothing to laugh about. There still isn’t.

The cancellation of the races was a huge body blow to Hong Kong- another one and almost a TKO.

The races are almost never ever cancelled except when the typhoon signed number 8 is hoisted, or the time there was an outbreak of equine influenza.

Being a kid who had only just arrived in Hong Kong from Ceylon with his parents, I vaguely remember the races being cancelled in early 1960 after then-champion gentleman jockey Marcel Samarcq had a fatal fall on the fourth race of the day at Happy Valley.

The cancellation of the races at Happy Valley on Wednesday was, however, very different.

Whereas horse racing had been fairly immune to the chain reaction of protests, some peaceful, others becoming more and more violent as the Hong Kong government looked in befuddled silence, on Wednesday, the HKJC had to take into consideration the safety of, not only race goers, but also the jockeys, the horses, and the welfare of all those coming and going to the races plus those working in the neighbouring off course betting centres.

There was also the news of another huge rally planned for later that day at nearby Victoria Park and with concern how this might spill over into the Happy Valley area.

Again, on social media, Hong Kong has-beens just had to have their say. Put as politely as possible, they were whistling The Ding Dong Song through their wrinkled arses.

Of course by now, one learned that the cancellation of the horse racing had everything to do with one horse- the ironically named Hong Kong Bet- and its controversial co-owner and pro-establishment lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-you.

Junius Ho slams protests, storms off TV debate – RTHK

Being an “enemy of the people” behind these “Protests Of The Different Coloured T-Shirts”, Junius Ho, a supporter of the People Of The White Tees, was singled out for revenge by the People Of The Black Tees.

Since Monday, a certain section of the Chinese press were busy drumming up rancour against Junius Ho, how he would be on course at Happy Valley Racecourse on Wednesday to see his horse run, and how here was an opportunity for The Black Tees to play “Gotcha!”

The drums became a louder and louder rallying call until at around midday on race day when the HKJC made the tough decision that everything pointed to things not leading up to a very Happy Wednesday.

One must understand how closely intertwined horse racing is with the people of Hong Kong- the ordinary, hardworking public.

We had seen how horse racing helped bring this city together during the SARS outbreak through cheering on the exploits of champion sprinter Silent Witness.

Horse racing has always had a very special place in the makeup of Hong Kong. It provides a workaholic city with a much-needed four hour break from “stress fractures” and boarding lonely midnight trains of gloom and doom.

Horse racing is, in some ways, as symbolic to Hong Kong as the Statue Of Liberty is to America. It’s a welcoming symbol of freedom and the pursuit of individual happiness. It’s something with which no one messes. It’s much more than the punt. Much much more. And now, here it was being silenced and torn apart by different forces with their own agendas.

Reading every day about the “embattled” Hong Kong government, the “beleaguered” Chief Executive, the toothless fairies, the continuous ‘live’ feeds of more of the same- protesters protesting, police policing and the usual flurry of comments from those eavesdropping with no idea even where any of this is happening paints a very confusing and, more than anything else, a very depressing picture of Hong Kong. It’s mind snap stuff.

Constant negativity and with no light at the end of the tunnel other than an oncoming train is not living. It’s surviving until the eventual fade to black and Porky Pig saying, “Th-th-That’s All Folks”.

Right now, the only positive motivator that Hong Kong has is, believe it or not, horse racing.

As has been said here time and time again, horse racing is Hong Kong’s most popular pastime- and most powerful relaxant.

For how much longer will these protesters keep protesting? How how much longer will the procrastinating Hong Kong government keep procrastinating? How much longer can Hong Kong keep singing with words falling on deaf ears?

How long is a ball of string?

The ONE constant that keeps Hong Kong together is horse racing. On Wednesday, this, too, was derailed.

Here’s hoping that amongst the murkiness of it all and the terminal divisiveness of a city going nowhere fast, horse racing under the HKJC which gives back millions to ALL of Hong Kong without taking sides can continue being the stabilising influence it’s always been.

As the song goes, One monkey don’t stop no show. And neither should one horse owner.

Finding a solution to this is easier said than done, but when this happens- and it will- Hong Kong will be the winner. Not the colour of a t-shirt.

#HKracing #JuniusHo #horseracing #HongkongBet #HKprotests