By Hans Ebert

Hong Kong racing fans have always been drawn to and extremely accepting of French riders. This might have started with the enormous popularity here of iconic French actors like Alain Delon and Jean Paul Belmondo. Both were the epitome of cool just as Catherine Deneuve was the personification of style and class.

Local movie stars often modelled themselves after, especially, Delon- Chow Yun-fat, Tony Leung, Andy Lau etc. The slightly dishevelled hair, jacket draped over the shoulders and a cigarette dangling from their mouths became de rigeur in every movie where the complex anti hero ruled.

So, when a French jockey arrived in Hong Kong, they brought with them to the racing world a certain flair. A certain je ne sais quoi.

Names that immediately come to mind? The enigmatic and brilliant and unpredictable Eric Saint Martin.

He might have been the l’enfant terrible to the racing Stewards, but to racing fans, this son of the legendary jockey Yves Saint Martin could do no wrong. And even when he might have crossed the line when it came to rules and regulations and faced the grapes of wrath of the Stewards, these just enhanced his image of being a loveable agent provocateur.

Everyone loves a bad boy, and in horse racing, perhaps except for Frankie Dettori, there’s been no one with the personality, charisma and talent of Eric Saint Martin. Watching him ride was poetry in motion- not unlike watching Joao Moreira in a race.

Of course, when talking about French legends of the turf who kept winning over Hong Kong racing fans, right up there is Gerald Mosse. Describing this brilliant rider as being legendary is easy. But Mosse’s legend had to do with his exploits both on and off course.

The flamboyant Olivier Doleuze simply exuded Gaelic flair and that joie de vivre every time he rode a winner. One expected the unexpected from Ollie. And he didn’t let anyone down.

We loved the fact that he created his own Dance tracks in his home studio, that he was a regular at the hippest club in Hong Kong- Dragon-i- and also embraced the disciplines of Thai boxing known as Muay Thai- the “art of eight limbs”.

Let’s also never forget the talent of Philippe Paquet, another great French rider whose career in the saddle faded to black much too soon following a terrible track work fall.

Also often forgotten when mentioning French riders who made Hong Kong their home is the popular Eric Legrix, who married Sherie Kong, the city’s first female jockey.

One particular quinella where the husband had to play second fiddle to the young wife in a race comes to mind. Some jumped up and down about this result and there was an enquiry, but, c’est la vie and life went on.

Frenchman Patrick Biancone trained here for a number of seasons and married Elaine Sung, a former Miss Hong Kong. But let’s leave it at that.

Lost amongst the names mentioned above and the various jockeys who made fleeting cameos in Hong Kong led by the great Olivier Peslier was another French rider- Marcel Samarcq.

Mr Samarcq was a champion gentleman rider in Hong Kong during the Fifties, arriving in the city after a number of years riding in Taijin in China where he learned to speak Mandarin fluently.

One Saturday afternoon in 1960, the races at Happy Valley were abandoned after the third or fourth race. The hugely popular Marcel Samarcq had suffered a fatal fall.

Today, Hong Kong’s riding ranks have been bolstered by the addition of a new Frenchman- Antoine Hamelin.

Having ridden a double on his first race day here and a winner at each of the following meetings including one more yesterday at Shatin, he’s quickly built up a fan base- not only with racing fans, but also with trainers and owners.

How long will he remain in Hong Kong? Apart from the fact that racing in Europe is in lockdown mode, everything happens for a reason. The speed in which he decided to pack his bags, answer the call up from the HKJC and go through the required two weeks of self quarantine, signals another rider who’ll keep Hong Kong racing’s French connection very much intact.

Vive la France!

#EricSaintMartin #GeraldMosse #OlivierDoleuze #EricLegrix #PatrickBiancone #MarcelSamarcq #AlainDelon #JeanPaulBelmondo #PhilippePaquet #HKracing #AntoineHamelin