By Hans Ebert

Without meaning to sound overly dramatic, being in Hong Kong yesterday felt like waiting for the last day on earth. Nilsson singing that “everybody’s talkin’ at me, don’t hear a word they’re saying, only the echoes of my mind” was playing inside my head as I sat in the restaurant of a five star hotel trying to tick off the meetings scheduled for the day.

Six visitors to Hong Kong from Australia- their first time in the city and very nice people- were asking me questions about the races which were to be held the next day- China’s National Day 70th Year celebrations on October 1.

While social media was on overdrive with warnings about the blanket of darkness that was predicted to cover the city and dampen these celebrations, the visitors wanted to know whether the racing guides at the racecourse would only be available in “Hongkongese” and whether there were betting counters, if they would be able to watch the races and if they could have a bet in Australia as they had a runner racing in Swan Hill.

They were non-plussed about what Hong Kong has been going through for seven to eight straight weekends- mob rule fuelled by a renewed anti-China sentiment.

Though suffering from a bad head cold, there was a need to keep going. There was a meeting coming up followed by dinner with one of the very few people in Hong Kong with whom I enjoy having dinner.

After answering a volley of questions fired my way by Team Australia as politely as possible, what caught my eye was seeing the stress etched on the faces of the waiters and waitresses in the restaurant.

These Hongkongers were preparing themselves to expect the worst the next day- a day where plans by pro-democracy protesters were in place with Clockwork Orange precision to disrupt, trash and drown the city in anger and hate.

No one and nothing was to be spared, especially businesses with ties to Mainland China. We had seen the “dress rehearsal” last Sunday when shopping malls, restaurants and the underground system was smashed and the Chinese flag desecrated.

Hong Kong on Monday was in lockdown mode- battering down the hatches for the onslaught expected the next day. Waiting for my next meeting, I received a call from my ex wife. She was returning a message I had left the day before asking how she was. It was a cursory call- even awkward- that signed off on how much we had drifted apart.

My meeting didn’t take long for the business at hand to be taken care of. The rest of the time was a discussion about what doesn’t happen when longtime relationships break down and looking at life after Hong Kong.

This same conversation continued with my friend during dinner and a late night drink at the Champagne Bar. We needed to hear some music- something to take us away from the barrage of negativity hurled our way.

How had things been allowed to go this far down the slippery slope to desolation row? Everyone has their opinions, but who really knows?

What started out as a peaceful protest against the now withdrawn extradition bill had morphed into a multi headed beast of mass ill content where it was impossible to know right from wrong and black from white, blue from pink and truth from lies.

Unless living in today’s Hong Kong, which is unlike any other “version” of Hong Kong anyone has known, there’s no way of understanding just how significant it was that today’s National Day race meeting at Sha Tin went ahead- not only for fans of horse racing, but for at least part of the personality of the city.

As mentioned, Hong Kong has not only taken a severe battering, those who, ironically, are fighting for its future, have managed to hijack it and hold the city to ransom.

What is this new and far more violent group of protesters demanding? At least on the surface, democracy, but after this, things get hazy and crazy.

It’s very much like throwing everything against the wall and hoping something sticks- like yelling to the world on social media that Hong Kong is going through a “humanitarian crisis”, continuous allegations of “police brutality”, along with singing songs, chanting hymns, “Being like water” while Men In Black crash and burn public property in the name of “freedom”, taking over the airport and singing The Star Spangled Banner with especially America looking on.

In the midst of it all is horse racing. Horse racing in Hong Kong is much more than a hobby or pastime. It’s hallowed ground.

On September 18, the HKJC took the unprecedented, but correct move to cancel a race meeting at Happy Valley on the afternoon of the race day.

This was decided for safety reasons- for race goers, for the horses, for the racing fraternity and everyone involved in making horse racing happen.

One monkey don’t stop no show, but on this occasion, one horse, co-owned by a polarising local political figure, and an enemy of the Men In Black, did.

It was a reminder that holding a race meeting doesn’t just magically happen. There’s no fairy godmother. It requires days and weeks of planning by every racing club.

For the HKJC, it was a delicate balancing act between politics and common sense. Common sense won out.

As we approached today’s National Day meeting when much angst was tipped to be on the march and the main act being the citywide protests that were to be held, what was going to come into play is how the racing product could distance itself from all this negativity for four hours and morph into one big Happy Hour.

Again, these four hours are not only about horse racing. It’s very much about keeping the heartbeat of Hong Kong ticking.

Other than being a much-needed stress buster, it’s about ensuring how important it is for horse racing to continue without unnecessary stumbling blocks- to underline the work of the HKJC Charities Trust and how it benefits all of Hong Kong. Repeat: All of Hong Kong. It’s about not taking sides.

In another way, having this race meeting take place against such a murky background and succeed offers at least a glimmer of hope for a Hong Kong looking more and more like Gotham City waiting for Batman.

How this important race day might impact the HKJC’s international flagship product that is HKIR week in December, was something in the back of my mind.

Right here and now, however, it was about this race meeting and the reappearance of The Beauty That’s A Beast- champion miler Beauty Generation- and the exciting Aethero, both trained by John Moore and with the Zac Attack aboard.

The way John Moore has been talking about Aethero, he couldn’t be beaten today. Purton had been more cautious about the galloper’s chances. He was right. Fat Turtle took out the race who won like a good thing under the confident guidance of Joao Moreira. Aethero ran third and never ever looked a winning chance.

As for Beauty Generation, carrying top weight and racing over 1400 metres- not his ideal distance- while still not completely fit, was a possible problem. But who was in the race to beat him like a Michael Jackson song? Furore? The once very promising and still interesting Waikuku?

Being a prep race before his real mission on Hong Kong International Day, Beauty Generation took out the Group 3 Celebration Cup in record time. Let the racing writers expand on this. For owner Patrick Kwok, trainer John Moore and Zac Purton, there are bigger diamond studded carrots for him to tackle.

At least watching the races on television while viewing was punctuated close to where we’re staying by the sound of police sirens, everything certainly looked to be humming along swimmingly. It seemed to be business as usual. The on course Trackside team were being their usual bubbly selves with popular paddock expert Jenny Chapman asked by her fans for the obligatory selfie.

What was going on around Hong Kong? No idea. Social media with its barrage of bad news was switched off. It will continue to be switched off. The focus for over four hours was the spectacle and entertainment value of horse racing.

There were winners for Derek Leung, Matthew Poon, a brilliant four-timer for Joao Moreira including winning the Group 3 National Day Cup aboard Full Of Beauty, another “Beauty” winner for the Kwok family, Aldo Domeyer, Karis Teetan and a double for Zac Purton.

Of course, the HKJC had a number of precautionary measures and fallback plans in place before the racing took place. Nothing was left to chance. There was too much at stake.

Though impossible for some to get to the races at Sha Tin due to various traffic diversions and the MTR closing down a number of its most important stations.

Others decided to stay indoors, not wishing to get caught up in the fire and rain that is certain to engulf Hong Kong later tonight. Better safe than sorry.

Sorrier would have been if the HKJC cancelled this race day. That they stood their ground and left politics to the politicians and horse racing to run its own race spoke volumes about the Club and its leadership.

It showed a deft understanding of its USP and just how much it means to Hong Kong- all of Hong Kong.

The National Day race day was an important soupçon of positivity for some of us to embrace and be inspired after the last race of the day has been run and the constant negativity spewed out by those orchestrating agendas on social media has become tedious.

Well done and well played, HKJC.

#HKJC #HKracing #BeautyGeneration #Hongkongprotests #Hongkong