The Lunar New Year carnival

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 November, 2003, 12:00am

Without doubt, one of the social and sporting highlights of Hong Kong a century ago was the Annual Race Meeting, divided into three or more individual racedays on consecutive days during the Lunar New Year.

At the first meeting of the 1905 season, the VIPs present included Governor Sir Matthew Nathan, the general commanding the garrison, the vice-admiral commanding the fleet, several other senior officers from both services plus the leading lights of the business community.

The Post's Turf Correspondent reported enthusiastically that 'the weather clerk was on his best behaviour', the course was 'in first-rate condition', the 'grandstand was gay in its fresh coat of colouring', while the selections played by the band of the Royal West Kent Regiment during the afternoon 'were not the least attractive feature of the day's enjoyment'.

Overwhelmingly the greatest number of racegoers was from the Chinese community, 'who swarmed on every part of the course available for spectators, the rich in and around the stands and the poor in the centre of the ring, and there is no doubt that large sums changed hands among them. No one enjoys horse racing more than the Chinese, its glorious uncertainties affording ample scope for their keen gambling propensities.'

He found the scene on course a kaleidoscope of colour, with the colourful costumes of ladies and some of the menfolk present blending harmoniously with the uniforms of troops in regimental dress and sailors in whites, all combining in a delightful setting with 'the unrivalled backing of the verdant hills on three sides of the course' and the blue sky above.

But he had a rebuke for the caterers: 'Perhaps the least attractive feature, if one who experienced it may say so, was the charge of two dollars for a rough and scramble tiffin.'

The Governor arrived just before the bell announced the start of the first race and stayed in his handsome elevated private box for the whole afternoon. The best his small stable could do was a third with Ching in the Valley Stakes - an historic event still staged every year.

For the second meeting the following day, the track was muddy and sloppy from heavy rain overnight and soft drizzle during the day, causing a heavy mist that obscured what was happening on the distant parts of the course. Also the 'gay uniforms and costumes of the First Day were hidden under umbrellas and waterproofs'.

The fog began to lift as the field of eight got away for the Derby, with the two most favoured runners being Cotswold and Norman King, which had dead-heated the day before in the Garrison Cup. Next fancied was Halifax, who had beaten four rivals in the previous day's Maiden Stakes, then grittily followed up with a neck win in the Lusitano Cup, another event still staged today.

Cotswold took the lead from Norman King at the Rock and they stayed that way to the post. Halifax, weary from the exertions of the previous day, plugged on bravely for third.

Six races later, Norman King and the indestructible Halifax went out for the Navy Cup, the latter having its fourth start in just 24 hours. Hot favourite Norman King beat Halifax by eight lengths, giving owner George Hutton Potts his fourth win of the day.

The following day saw Derby winner Cotswold a handsome winner of the seven-furlong Flyaway Stakes, beating the iron-hearted Norman King by a length. But four races later Cotswold was an acceptor for the Champion Stakes, set to lump 158 pounds over 10 furlongs.

Our correspondent reported: 'On turning for home Cotswold showed his mettle by coming up strongly on the outside and galloping ahead into first place on the nail.' That evening some weary horses trudged back to their stables in Kennedy Road. Only a little less exhausted were the bandsmen of the Royal Kents, who had provided the music at the Governor's Ball the night before but manfully 'discoursed music of a high order of merit' during the afternoon.