Thundering hooves close serious season

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 September, 1998, 12:00am

It's September. The thoroughbreds are racing again, the kids have finally shuffled off to school with their Hello Kitty satchels and Andy Lau pencil cases and, most importantly, the 'silly season' is over.

Wait a second: what silly season? Most years, you can generally set your clock by the fact the significance of news stories - particularly local ones - deteriorates the moment the 'no horse-racing' season starts in Hong Kong.

Your correspondent was waiting for the usual silly-season siesta effect to set in - but it never arrived.

Spookily, the moment those horses stopped running around Happy Valley and Sha Tin this year, the news paradoxically became much bigger.

Markets collapsed, presidents teetered on the brink of ignominy and, perhaps most worryingly, Boris Yeltsin started to behave like he was imbibing vodka in sizeable quantities.

Just have a look at the news line-up since the horses stopped running.

The day after the thoroughbreds came to a halt, Hong Kong's unemployment rate moved above 4 per cent for the first time in more than 14 years - and that was just the start of the problems.

What followed was an array of big and bad news stories: department store closures, steadily worsening economic statistics and (how could we forget) the Chek Lap Kok fiasco.

It was the latter story which seemed to dominate bulletins for much of the 'no horses' season.

As we all well remember, there was no escape from the relentless array of Chek Lap Kok-up tales.

Even now, this correspondent receives a steady trickle of e-mails and faxes reliving unique nightmares experienced by some individuals in the early weeks of the airport.

Just when you thought it was safe to salvage a few weeks of silly season frolics after the shenanigans at the airport, the curse of this particular 'no horses' season struck again.

This time, it was financial market players who came in to shatter the dream of a couple of weeks of summer R&R for locals, by taking some pretty heavy-duty positions against Hong Kong.

It was, of course, the start of the silly season's most significant story: the battle between bazooka-toting, mega share-buying Hong Kong Monetary Authority boss, Joseph 'Yam-bo' Yam Chi-kwong, and his ultimate nemesis, the nasty speculator.

It has been a battle with all the subtlety of a Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield blockbuster.

That encounter is still to be won and lost, but one thing is certain: there were plenty of government and investment-bank heavyweights who had to cut short their precious vacations in this silliest of silly seasons.

Never mind guys: there's always Christmas - or, if it's still busy then, well, there's always Chinese new year.

And with the hundreds of millions of dollars in commissions investment houses have made since the government intervention, they must think a lifetime of Christmases has come in the heat of summer.

It's not only local events that took dramatic turns during the normally quiet times of Hong Kong's 'no horses' season.

The silly seasons of most international centres generally coincide with that of Hong Kong - but not this year.

The week the horses stopped running, the battling Japanese yen - already under serious pressure - started to go into free fall. Three months later, it still looks shaky.

And during this particular 'no horses' season, we have also had highly damaging revelations about the leader of the free world, Bill Clinton, that may or may not be about to set him on the trail to impeachment.

Then, after the embarrassment of going on television to tell the world of his 'inappropriate behaviour' (a term which, incidentally, is surely about to become a catch phrase for men or women who have cheated on their partners), Mr Clinton wasn't even able to enjoy a quiet breather.

He had headed off to his regular retreat in Martha's Vineyard directly after giving his mea culpa address: but a day or two later, rushed back to Washington to announce cruise missile attacks on targets in Sudan and Afghanistan.

Even presidential silly seasons, it seems, are under siege this year.

Finally, there was the extraordinary collapse of the Russian rouble - and, of course, Boris Yeltsin's by-now trademark response: 'Sack the government!' So, the big question: could this deluge of earth-shattering events since mid-June in some bizarre and eerie way be related to the absence of thoroughbreds from Hong Kong racecourses? We think it's all a case for Great Mysteries of the World.

Thankfully, we have a rare spot of good news to report for the superstitious of heart: the 'no horses' season is about to come to an end.

The thoroughbreds return to do their merry dance at the season-opening meeting at Sha Tin tomorrow.

So to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, we say this: bring on those horses. They can't return soon enough.