By Hans Ebert

It’s been a very longtime since Hong Kong has welcomed any international celebrities to town, but a number already arrived this and last week. They might not be Rock stars or from the land of Hollyweird, but these marquee value names from the world of horse racing are in town for this week’s Hong Kong international races.

All the work that has gone into having Group 1 names in racing like Hollie Doyle, Tom Marquand, Ryan Moore, William Buick, Mikael Barzalona and Pierre-Charles Boudot competing in the International Jockey Championship along with equine stars like Magical, Royal Julius, Scaletti, Japan’s Admire Mars, Win Bright, Normcore, and Tower Of London should not go unnoticed.

There should be a huge vote of confidence and thanks to the Hong Kong Jockey Club- in particular, its CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges.

In these almost Orwellian days and nights where nothing is made easy when having to fight an invisible enemy, it’s taken the patience of Job- and the man we know as “E.B”- meticulous planning to safeguard everyone involved in making this week happen, and much tip toeing through the dim sum cluster and its own brand of ping pong diplomacy for the Hong Kong Jockey Club to not only have these stars of horse racing here, but to actually have the prestigious and annual Hong Kong International Races go ahead.

The Club has succeeded where organisers of many other global events have failed.

That the HKIR show goes on underlines the importance of horse racing to this city and its role as the only bona fide Made In Hong Kong product there is these days. There’s a great deal of pride in ownership involved.

That often over-used term about Hong Kong’s “Can Do” spirit might be alive and well in this instance though one hopes to see it working in other aspects of getting this once buzz worthy city to rattle and hum again.

None of this is to say that the work for HKIR week is done and dusted and that it’s going to be smooth sailing from here on…

There’s first the Hong Kong International Jockeys Championship on Wednesday night at Happy Valley Racecourse. This will pit six of the world’s best riders from the UK and Europe against the six leading riders in Hong Kong competing in four designated races.

Most eyes will definitely be on racing’s new royalty- childhood sweethearts and today, headline making jockeys Hollie Doyle and Tom Marquand.

The couple is a marketer’s dream who, if hype is kept on the down low, can do so much to make horse racing more than it is. Like more sponsorship friendly, more diversified, more marketing savvy.

Add to this the ability to attract savvy business partners like Apple and everything under its umbrella. There should be far better policing of social media as it can so often be a pox on society.

Horse racing should by now be able to attract better and younger and multi dimensional creative talent when it comes to producing content so that the sport is in sync with the times in which we live. These are no longer the Eighties and we’re not going back to the old wishing well.

Look at how cricket has reinvented itself and moved away from the days of players like Ian Botham and Merv Hughes to larger than life personalities like, first, Kevin Pieterson and now, Virat Kohli.

There’s more, but who needs to read about all this on Facebook?

With Hollie Doyle nominated to be the BBC’s Sports Personality Of The Year alongside a megastar name like Lewis Hamilton, it’s already taken a not insignificant step for racing.

What next and What now are the questions.

BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2020: Vote for Hollie Doyle on 20th December – ECLIPSE MAGAZINE

The International Jockeys’ Championship will be the curtain raiser for the main event- the Hong Kong International Races- four Group 1 races with plenty at stake- prestige, pride, millions in prize money, bragging rights and the opportunity for, this year, thankfully, very few of the usual cast of flatulent characters around to strut their stuffings and enjoy the free ride.

Of course, unlike other years, there will be the thundering hooves and exciting finishes, but the roar of the crowd will mainly be confined to living rooms. This is where audiences will watch the on course excitement unfold on what is now very much a new Made For Television product and should be rebranded as one- but not for couch potatoes.

It won’t be the same, but it’s really up to what one does to make the best of any situation we find ourselves in these days.

We plan to watch the races with our funski Eastern European friends Olga and Helga while sipping Crystal champagne and feeding each other Beluga caviar and cheeseburgers from Five Guys.

On Wednesday night, unlike past years, there won’t be any fireworks going off, long legged international ambassadresses and the usual celebratory after race party at Adrenaline with its ‘live’ music and eclectic mix of shiny happy people.

Again, fun is what you make of it. We, for instance, are planning to wheel in our own DJ to the apartment and have a Village People Tribute Night.

None of this is not the perfect scenario. But in these Covid fatigued days and nights, it’s about accepting what’s available and realising that this is as good as it’s going to get for the time being… and how things can only get better.

#HKIR #HKJC #HKIJC #HKracing #horseracing #HollieDoyle #TomMarquand #ChristopheSoumillon #RyanMoore #WilliamBuick #MikaelBarzalona #PierreCharlesBoudot