By Hans Ebert

Zac Purton, Hong Kong racing’s high priest of everything, has been quoted as saying that riding at the races at Shatin this afternoon will be “weird”- the staging of the auspicious Chinese New Year Day meeting where, every other year, even non racing fans attend hoping to back the winner of the first race for good feng shui. But not this Year Of The Rat. The high priest would agree.

Weird, wacky, surreal or whatever, it will certainly be a different on course experience. It’s a bit like “Suppose They Gave A War And Nobody Came”.

With the Hong Kong Government receiving orders from its masters in Beijing, every possible precaution is being taken to quell what is now known as the Wuhan Coronavirus.

Those who were in Hong Kong in 2003 will remember when the SARS virus gripped this city and brought practically everything to a standstill.

If there was a glimmer of normality, it was probably watching the legendary champion sprinter Silent Witness go about his job of winning race after race.

Still, this could not help survive with some hope in a city in lockdown mode- schools and offices closed, hospitals overcrowded, our medical staff tremendously over-stretched, businesses barely surviving and hotel occupancy down to a mere two percent.

Iconic and openly gay Chinese actor Leslie Cheung jumping to his death from a suite at the Mandarin Oriental on April 1, 2003 added to the darkness of it all.

If they could, and other countries accepted us “masked people” from what was almost a leper island, many left Hong Kong to wait and see if and when things might be safe again to return.

The enigmatic and brilliant French rider Eric Saint Martin is said to have quickly left Hong Kong with his family for his homeland without remembering to let the HKJC know. He simply didn’t want to die here. Who did?

This is not to say that this new epidemic will impact Hong Kong in the same way. But with Wuhan Coronavirus having mutated in China, let’s just say that no one is sure about anything, especially in this social media driven world of “news” that’s often impossible to take at face value.

Over dinner with friends last night and while being served by masked waiters while around us were many diners wearing one of the four shades of masks available, on came the onslaught of rumours. And rumours never contain good news. The only exceptions were two youngish Eastern European ladies with us who had their heads buried on Instagram and constantly reminding us about the money to be made from being famous on this online platform. Priorities, you know.

As for the races today, and which will be staged for those owners and friends with horses competing in any of the eleven races, staff, and those who might have already made reservations at the racecourse’s venues and Private and Members Boxes.

Today’s race meeting is going to look like a private on course function. A nice tea party for a select few. Or a belated surprise birthday party for Paul Lally.

At least, the races are going on as planned and with the HKJC giving television audiences four hours of programming. All Off Course Betting Centres won’t be open for business. Gawd bless those Telebet operators. They do an incredible job taking in all those numbers and various betting permutations.

Though the jockeys based in Hong Kong will kinda know what to expect- kinda- like walking around the paddock and returning to muted applause after each race, one wonders if those riders jetting in just for the day- Ryan Moore and Jamie Spencer- might be prepared for what not to expect?

All this, however, is of little interest to the millions in Hong Kong.

With us still coming up against the occasional peaceful rally, which almost always spills over into something more violent, and certainly without any trust or great expectations from the Carrie Lam led dysfunctional Hong Kong government and distrust of the news coming out of the officialdom of Mainland China, this city really is at the mercy of others. It shouldn’t be.

We’re prisoners here of our own device though we didn’t ask for any of this. All we need is to somehow see Hong Kong start to become the safe, thriving city it once was.

Going through more months of anxiety and not seeing any glimmer of hope is something that will test the patience and stress levels of many.

Having said this, after all we’ve gone through- and are still going through- perhaps it’s a good time for the handful here with vision to get together, start with a clean slate and create a very much new and improved Hong Kong that can look after itself with help from no one.

Wishful thinking? Perhaps not. There’s always that element of surprise when one least expects it.

#HKracing #HKJC #Hongkong #WuhanCoronavirus #SARS