By Hans Ebert

If someone with an interest in Hong Kong horse racing and thinking things couldn’t get much worse in the quest to find a winner, on Wednesday night, at Happy Valley racecourse, the elephant in the room decided to break free of the shackles, trumpet its intentions, and go on a rampage.

Of course, to the dyed-in-the-wool horse racing fan not living here and who believes that everything travels around this orbit, few will have any idea what Hong Kong is going through- self-imprisonment brought about through possibly very real fear of the Coronavirus, almost zero nightlife, social media on negativity overload and plenty of questions ping ponging in the head about Where To Next if this is to continue being “life” for another few months.

Even the most hardened local racing fan can only look at what might have been a favourite pastime and a much needed break twice a week just a few short months ago and today see a television show that could be a rerun of “Bonanza”.

The interest level and excitement to see if one can beat the odds aren’t there anymore. Not really. Still, it’s though good to know there’s an escape clause and SOME entertainment instead of downing more chill pills.

On Wednesday at Happy Valley, which have stopped being the HKJC’s popular Happy Wednesday brand for almost a month, seeing the night start off with three odds-on pops, all ridden by the magic man himself- Joao Moreira- bite the dust, didn’t augur well for things to come. This was to be proven correct.

Apart from a couple of Mr Bean rides by jockeys who should know better, the handful of people allowed on course these days- and those at home and not watching Netflix- seeing number 9 salute in the last race of the night at odds of over 160 to 1 couldn’t have been a Hallelujah Moment.

Of course, it’s easy to be a fountain of information after the horse had bolted about its fair form in Australia- it raced as Silverlink in Queensland when trained by Stephen O’Dea- how the last run wasn’t bad and how IF on course, one would have backed it along with winning the 6 Up bonus, the treble, the Quartet and twelve mockingbirds in a pear tree.

The fact of the matter is that no one saw it coming- the win of Ping Hai Galaxy. The owner wasn’t there, the Poon Train who rode it looked somewhat embarrassingly bemused, and at least two runners who were widely tipped to be the winners in the same race didn’t even run in the first four.

It wasn’t Friday the 13th, but it was closing in on Thursday the 13th by the time some had picked themselves off the floor.

Then again, “it’s racing” and where one should by now come to expect the unexpected. But here in Hong Kong where nothing is quite as it was just a year ago and probably never will be, we don’t really need anymore rude surprises.

After eight months of “social unrest” which have morphed into a deadly virus with no one of any relevance having answers to where it might lead and how or by when it will be contained, those supplying the “facts” and spreading pandemonium are those self-styled geniuses on social media. And don’t anyone tell them they’re wrong.

This is The New Journalism- not the way Tom Wolfe imagined it might be- but more like The Joker as the online town crier.

Frankly, this blanket of negativity and pessimism hanging over Hong Kong can be blamed squarely on a panic-stricken government- a clueless gaggle of headless chickens that, instead of working to inspire its people, are actually working AGAINST this happening. And what this does is create a chain reaction of bad news aided and abetted by many on social media addicted to this often negative online “lifestyle”.

One cannot thank Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the HKJC, enough for fighting to ensure that unlike all the conventions and exhibitions, concerts and key sporting events like the World Rugby Sevens that have either been cancelled or postponed for a later date no one can predict, horse racing albeit without the trimmings continues.

On Wednesday night, there might have been less than 200 people on course and an unknown number in Hong Kong watching what has become a tired looking and sounding television show. But for overseas racing fans, it’s still all about beating the odds and there was what they wanted to see: the most international group of jockeys in the world, competing against each other and this still being broadcast ‘live’ from Hong Kong.

For the man they call “E.B”, having horse racing continue, and with the HKJC taking all precautions to ensure that this virus does not affect those connected with the pastime, it has also been a personal ongoing battle to bring back Hong Kong’s Can Do spirit.

This resilience is still there no matter what some might think. But it needs real leadership to inspire this to rise again like a Phoenix from the ashes of bad joss and those nincompoops of incompetence.

When Hong Kong gets through this latest crisis- and it will- the history writers will remember these times and one of the few people who did more to bring about some normality and optimism by keeping a pastime alive- and even make this pastime much more than it’s perceived to be by many outside of racing’s bubble.

“E.B” could have thrown his hands up in air and joined the rest of this city’s naysayers. He needn’t have bothered. But he did- and continues to do so. Tirelessly.

If the HKJC, these grey days should be documented and edited into a short indie film for a festival like Sundance with narration by the jockeys, trainers, owners, racing fans and “E.B”. Never let a crisis get in the way of a damn good storyline.

Who else in Hong Kong would have and will fight like a Beastie Boys song for something that’s very much needed- a damn good dose of positivity with a strong support system?

Personally, one doesn’t see many takers- certainly not amongst those paid to lead, who busy themselves running around like masked headless chickens and creating more problems than solutions.

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