By Hans Ebert

Of course, the two big stories at Sha Tin on Sunday had to do with who won the Stewards Cup and the Centenary Sprint Cup, but rehashing these when they’d already be covered by a knowledgeable racing writer like David Morgan would be like pressing the retweet button. And this would be boring…

Perhaps more interesting to those small players new to horse racing is finding more “consumer friendly” back stories. There’s the 2020 “reversal of fortune” of Neil Callan who’s a rejuvenated rider this year after a less than stellar 2019.

The “iron man” has got his mojo back along with rides with actual winning chances. On Sunday, he rode a double- his third winner this month. The Irishman and proud family man is strong physically, and more importantly, mentally.

There was then apprentice Jack HW Wong who got his horse to the front, and from there, it was determination personified. Wong threw everything at the aptly named Undefeated and staved off the challenge of the Joao Moreira-ridden race favourite Power King.

Whereas Jack Wong rode his fourth winner of the season, the win of Undefeated brought up winner number 30 for the galloper’s understated trainer Francis Lui.

Lui has been travelling under the radar for most of his career, but is right up there today for his best season. Right now, he’s four winners behind Ricky Yiu, the leader for the trainer’s championship, and has forged a very successful partnership with jockey Vincent CY Ho, who, himself is battling out third place on the jockeys table with Karis Teetan and Grant van Niekerk.

As the ubiquitous and polarising showbiz “personality” Natalis Chan, who’ll always be only too glad to tell you everything he’s won and force his “inside information” on you, led in the heavily punted down Undefeated for official owner Johnny Yau Ying-cheung for the winning photo, one wondered, Where’s Johnny?

We don’t know about Johnny, but there was old Natalis, the former singer with a local pop band called the Loosers (sic), dressed for the occasion with newly streaked hair and smiling like the fat cat who swallowed the pigeon. He probably had.

“Stand ins” like Natty Chan for official winning connections and winning photographs, and those, other than the licensed trainer or assistant trainer involved in giving riding instructions to jockeys, who, when they fail to win or are left to face the wrath of the stewards on “improper riding” charges, surely fall under the term “dodgy” and bring integrity issues into question?

When the same dubious characters have been involved in what many local race goers have seen happen openly for decades with “their” horses involved in big winning plunges, rightly or wrongly, the word “shenanigans” come into play and tongues wag.

These take much of the gloss away from the important Group races. These take second place to after race talk about those green lamps and brown lamps with the usual suspects happily lapping it up and adding more spice to the usual game of Chinese Whispers.

Thankfully, there was the great finish to the Stewards Cup between a brave Beauty Generation and the Size-Moreira’s Waikuku. What everyone saw were two of the world’s best jockeys at their very best. Zac Purton was as good at coming second as Joao Moreira was in winning. It was superb stuff. Brilliant competitive riding.

This was also a battle royale between the Kwoks and the Huis, Hong Kong racing’s most powerful racing dynasties. The winner this time was the latter family whereas John Size, who was winning his sixth Stewards Cup, and Joao Moreira combined again to take out the Centenary Sprint Cup with the ultra consistent, but still somewhat underrated by some of Beat The Clock, thanks to an extremely astute ride by the mercurial magic man.

The win was pretty much expected. What wasn’t was the very impressive run for second by Thanks Forever and given a great ride by Grant van Niekerk.

Always the showman, Joao Moreira celebrated by adding something new to his bag of tricks- happily throwing his winning whip into the crowd followed by his trademark two thumbs up.

It’s the small things that matter and these gestures by Moreira are all far more celebratory than those staid presentation ceremonies that have been going on since the days when Moses came down from the mountains holding ten tablets.

There is tradition, yes, and also pedestrian. It’s about having 2020 vision and realising that the world has changed and how race goers want Feel Good moments. Something that says, Thanks for coming. This is something a keychain or cap can’t buy. Feelings can’t be bought.

The Cup races apart, what was good to see were the wins of two other apprentices- Dylan Mo and Alfred Chan.

Mo brought up a double for Francis Lui with a very strong ride to beat senior jockeys in a close finish on Valiant Dream.

Chan led all the way with a clever ride aboard My Ally for the John Moore yard.

Under the guidance and experience of Felix Coetzee, the great South African rider who works with these young apprentices, their improvement has not gone unnoticed.

If now only someone could teach attention-grabbing horse racing “fan boys” with no official association with horses exactly where they do and don’t belong.

This means changes being put in place to avoid certain question marks hovering around some races.

These rules will go a long way towards this pastime known as horse racing being enjoyed by a wider audience with the only thing left after the races- win, lose or draw- being one of feeling how that was a fun day out and where the positives outweigh the negatives.

#HKracing #Waikuku #BeautyGeneration #BeatTheClock #StewardsCup #CentenarySprintCup #JoaoMoreira #ZacPurton #JohnSize #JohnMoore #NatChan #JackWong #AlfredChan #DylanMo #FrancisLui #NeilCallan