by Hans Ebert

Like the rest of the world, Hong Kong isn’t immune from the other pandemic making its unwelcome presence felt- the one called Boredom. With little or no tourism, this once vibrant international global gumbo city, has hit a bit of a flat spot.

After all, people make a city, and if there are practically no tourists, where are all the new and interesting people? At Disneyland and Ocean Park? McDonald’s?

Though there are ebbs and flows of something of a pulse in this city’s New Normalcy, defining what this might work out to be is still up in the air. We’re working towards something, but what it is isn’t exactly clear.

After all, there is only so much hiking one can do. Same with the Zoom calls one can make. Staycations? They can very quickly lose its price tag lustre whereas the lights in Hong Kong’s night life are still to be switched on.

There’s also only so much of social media one can inhale before the eyes take you to the comments section on any subject and you’re struck down by The Revenge Of The Emojis and the rants of The Opinionated Peeps.

There’s then the certainty of uncertainty in practicality every aspect of life keeping many from making any long term plans. How can there be any firm planning amongst such fragility and constantly walking on eggshells?

In Hong Kong, the one certainty for most of the seven millions of us locals is that the new horse racing season can’t start soon enough. And it will. In fact, it all starts again at Shatin on September 5.

One understands that well-known part time horse racing photographers and racing fans Wallace Wan, below, and Donald Lee are already at the track so as not to miss a thing.

Though there have been various simulcasts of racing from Ascot, Goodwood, Deauville, Le Jeune and, I think, Greyville in South Africa, there’s nothing quite like horse racing from home base. Nothing. Ne rien.

It’s always good to know the riders, trainers and the horses. It’s even better to know who one is betting on, especially for those having cursory bets to kill time and bother staying awake until around midnight to watch the racing in between channel surfing.

What is very much missed is following the ongoing reality series of Hong Kong racing starring the cast of jockeys, trainers, owners, the local racing media and with everything thrown together amongst news of stable changes and all the other back stories some know all too well. Or think they know.

All this is fascinating stuff that keeps morphing into a different animal from one day to the next- sometimes a poodle, and other times a sparkling dragon or hot king prawn.

It’s proof positive that the most effective marketing, no matter how daft, remains word of mouth advertising.

What can one say? People just love to talk. There’s nothing like a yak.

For the past few too many weeks, racing fans have been starved of the entertainment value and next instalment of the always riveting Zac And Joao Show and exactly where their supporting cast might fit in- and who this might be in the new season. Dennis Yip? Frankie Lor? David Hayes? Meanwhile…

Apart from the sartorial splendour of Trainer Douglas Whyte that’s become something of a feature of Wednesday night’s racing- he’s had to up his game to keep up with Instagram favourite in daughter Kara- Dougie has no doubt used what might be considered “downtime” to some to have his stable in razor sharp Attack mode right from the get-go.

Photo by @wallacewanck

The man thrives on competition. It’s a high. It’s second nature to him. It’s Whyte Magic.

Photo by @wallacewanck

Of course, being the sorcerer, he’ll once again be relying on stable apprentice and future star rider Jerry Chau, who’ll be busy adding new chapters to his own success story. It’s a story worth following.

Photo by @wallacewanck

It’s a given that when it comes to rides, Douglas will use the Big Two, but only if really really really necessary. The focus is always on his training efforts and the rewards they bring him. Why change the modus operandi now?

There won’t be the emotionally charged personality of Neil Callan this season now that the Irish Iron Man is busy with family and rebooting his career back in the UK.

Photo by @wallacewanck

There will however be new boy in the very talented young South African apprentice Luke Ferraris, son of Darth, and very much familiar with how Hong Kong racing works.

The competition between him and especially Jerry Chau will be great viewing as will watching Luke match skills with every other jockey riding here. He’s not here for the dim sum.

The absence of the Iron Man might mean the Zac Attack having the added responsibility of keeping everyone on their toes- unless, of course, the likes of the enigmatic Blake Shinn has undergone some incredible personality change during the off-season. Stranger things have happened.

Size will matter as usual with the master trainer having some very good young equine talent. The Brazilian Magic Man will have first dibs on them, but one never knows when they might end up going elsewhere- like into the waiting arms of Karis Teetan, no doubt feeling fresh and ready for action after spending romantic Instastaycations in every five-star hotel in town with the missus.

Apart from working out how to bust some new victory moves, “Casibah” would have already done his homework and research into how to beat the handicapper at his own ratings game whereas many eyes will be on the rather large frame of David Hayes.

Last season saw a fairly successful return to Hong Kong racing for the popular trainer. This is the season where one expects him to produce some of his big guns and deliver the goods. Expectations are high and no one really cares about past successes.

Who might benefit most from getting the rides on Haysey’s big guns?

Soon-to-be father and his former apprentice in Melbourne- Chad “The Chadster” Schofield- will continue his association with the stable and the very good Fantastic Treasure. There will no doubt be other gallopers who will make their debuts.

Photo: HKJC

Will Haysey spread the wealth around? And apart from the Zac Attack, who might be the other recipients of his generosity? Vincent Ho? Or will the hush puppies of Blake Shinn launch a sneaky surprise attack for a few coveted rides?

With crowds on-course still very much limited due to strict social distancing measures, racing remains very much a television product with some brilliant untapped content.

Though mentioned half-seriously, there’s still the nagging thought how this current show could have an “indie” version for a new and younger audience with hosts taking viewers through all the goss unfolding on and off the track in an entertaining manner.

The last time one looked, there’s been a changing of the guard taking place in pretty much everything that’s out there and on offer today.

No one today is even interested in bothering to keep up with the Kardashians.

Things change. Changing with the times is never easy.

Trying to understand the times we find ourselves in today is a good place to start.

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