A couple of years ago and when magic was in the air like Mandrake on speed, the first rider some of us would cross out when doing the form for racing at Happy Valley Racecourse was, believe it or not, Joao Moreira.

Though having completely conquered Sha Tin, the Brazilian magic man still hadn’t been able to pull many rabbits out of his sombrero when riding the tight, often idiosyncratic city track. It’s a track that has only really been mastered by the great Tony Cruz and Douglas Whyte, and, to an extent, more recently, Zac Purton.

Joao never hid the fact that he much preferred riding at Sha Tin than Happy Valley. The low percentage of winners he rode at the latter track said much about the reasons for his preference. Whatever it was, something wasn’t working for him at Happy Valley.

Time changes everything and since being back in Hong Kong after his brief fishing expedition in Japan, the magic has returned- at Sha Tin and, more importantly, Happy Valley where, these days, it’s no surprise to see him winning the Jockey Challenge. He won another at this week’s Happy Wednesday night meeting.

Sitting with us at the track’s venue that’s Adrenaline was John Didham, below, the original magic man, a title bestowed on him by our very good friend and extremely knowledgeable racing man Lawrence Wadey when JD owned the jockey’s title in Macau. This was when being the best in Macau meant something. John was the best by many lengths.

Watching the races and having remarked at how low in the saddle Joao Moreira rides and just how much in harmony he is with his horse, John, not a man of many words and hardly the great pontificator, mentioned about the Brazilian rider’s great judge of pace, understanding of the track, and sense of timing, all of which was what gave him another double that night.

Joao Moreira aside, this night showed just how much racing in Hong Kong is changing and continues to change.

Yes, a Happy Wednesday night is unlike any other night of racing anywhere else in the world with its incredibly unique location, edutainment value and a much younger group of regular race goers- different to being racing fans. There’s also the racing.

Though the big races still take place at Sha Tin along with the more elite equine talent, the race riding at Happy Valley has become far more competitive, and, say some, more “strategic”.

Whereas before it was all about “horses for courses” and who was “the king of the Valley”, it’s now a far more level playing field. Trainer Caspar Fownes still does very well with his runners at the city track, but not with the dominance of before. He’s no longer “King Of The Valley”. The king has not abdicated. He’s just working new things out in his head as nothing lasts forever.

Every trainer has stepped up their game and racing their horses at Happy Valley is no longer a warmup run before going for the brass ring at Sha Tin.

Of course, this has seen the relatively new jockey ranks in Hong Kong add to this change. The racing on Happy Wednesday night underlined this- fiercely competitive and truly exciting racing.

The wins by Alberto Sanna, Grant van Niekerk, apprentice Dylan Mo, Karis Teetan, Chad Schofield, the Zac Attack and the magic man proved that along with the entertainment value that Happy Valley racing provides, the main act is hardly a second rate sideshow.

The arrival of riders like Grant van Niekerk from South Africa and The Man From Sardinia, Alberto Sanna has brought something new to the game. Unpredictability? Perhaps. Whatever it is, it’s made the other riders who know what it takes to win at the city track rethink their plans because new competition demands it.

Alberto Sanna winning the last race on a 51-1 runner, and three favourites saluting on the nine race card also shows there’s value to be had at the Valley.

Those Happy Wednesday regulars who have no time for “tips” and tipping shows produced for an older generation of racing fan, love value. And they enjoy the racing that leads to value.

What’s happening at Happy Valley with its international regulars and tourists sends a strong signal that the racing shouldn’t be some showcase for horses in the lower grades and their owners to win a couple of races.

It’s not about leaving the bigger pickings for Sha Tin and to the racing dynasties owned by the Kwoks and the Sius. It’s not about kinda goofy on course big bow activities for the very local market.

Like the city itself, racing in Hong Kong is changing. The winners will be those who adapt to these changes.

Happy Valley racing, which takes place under the successful Happy Wednesday brand now needs to heighten the excitement of its racing product.

This means reworking the presentation format which hasn’t changed since the days when Methuselah wore short pants to understanding that god is in the details and that blips like sync problems on video screens look silly and amateurish.

Add to this that the dated Sha Tin “regulation style” and Twitter-driven marketing works against and is at loggerheads with the younger and attractive Happy Wednesday brand along with its more savvy and inquisitive customer base.

It’s a generational thing.

#HappyWednesdayHK #HKJC #JoaoMoreira #GrantvanNiekerk #AlbertoSanna #horseracing