Year of change
The men in charge at the Jockey Club are dealing with a revolution in the sport. Murray Bell reports
It says much about the structure of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the quality of its succession planning that the biggest season of change in its professional history went off without a glitch.
Firstly, chairman Ronald Arculli stepped down after a highly successful four-year term, though moving over to become chairman of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange scarcely qualifies as 'retirement'.
John Chan Cho-chak gave the impression of being a quiet, mild-mannered director during his term as Arculli's deputy, but four days after being handed the reins Chan came out with a positive agenda during his maiden media briefing under the new hat.
He cared little for the potential upset when he outlined his plan to get children back on to racecourses, not to bet but to enjoy the atmosphere of one of the world's great social and sporting activities.
Chan, the managing director of the Kowloon Motor Bus Company, is a well-recognised and awarded businessman. Despite there being no obvious similarities between running a fleet of double-decker buses and staging racing for charity twice a week, Chan says the management theories are much the same: 'If your planning and method is good, you can apply it to any business.'
The next big personnel question was who would replace Lawrence Wong Chi-kong as chief executive. After the head-hunting company sorted through more than 100 names, the club found the best man for the job was already under their roof at Sports Road.
Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, popularly known as EB, had served over eight years as executive director of racing and won the top management position on the back of a peerless performance since arriving from Germany in 1998.
As former champion trainer Ivan Allan said in reaction to the appointment: 'Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges was not merely the best choice - he is by far the best in the world in his field and he was the only choice.'
Dynamic may have been a word coined with EB in mind.
He's up early and goes to bed late and his idea of 'rest' is a 10km run. But the clincher when Chan and his fellow stewards came to finally decide on the next CEO was his 'global vision'.
At the conclusion of the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races in December, the popular Ciaran Kennelly called it a day as chief handicapper and went home to Ireland with wife Suzy and a host of memories.
Kennelly had worked closely with EB and together they made great inroads in bringing racing up to international standard.
The great international accomplishments of Hong Kong horses all happened during the EB-Kennelly era - the overseas wins of Fairy King Prawn, Cape Of Good Hope and Bullish Luck, the staggering career of Silent Witness and the crowning of Vengeance Of Rain as the World Racing Champion for 2005.
Kennelly helped erode the false sense of British superiority in international racing and, as co-chairman of the international body of handicappers, made great strides in boosting the perception and status of southern hemisphere and Asian racing.
His replacement, Nigel Gray, was a key appointment because he was already co-chairman of the global panel of handicappers and thus Hong Kong did not have to relinquish any of its hard-won clout on the world body.
Bill Nader joined the club in late April, from New York where he had run the New York Racing Association. It was an unenviable task, stepping into the shoes of Engelbrecht-Bresges, but Nader is shaping right up to the challenge as he begins to absorb the huge cultural differences between Hong Kong and New York racing.
Long-serving Keith Watkins, the head of veterinary regulation and international liaison, also stepped aside mid term after a long career.
His replacement was also found internally - Brian Stewart, a respected and experienced clinician.
Men are best measured during difficult times and when the EHV outbreak was at the height of its virulence, Stewart provided all the assurance necessary that he was indeed the right man for the job.
2006-07 y-o-y change