On the Rails
with Alan Aitken
A new trainer has been a while coming and, privately anyway, we have had the view that a quiet Jockey Club insistence on a southern hemisphere-based trainer as the next expatriate flew in the face of reality.
But we have to admit that, in Richard Gibson, the club appears to have been rewarded for its patience, or stubbornness - take your pick.
Since David Oughton's departure in late 2006, arguably a vacancy for a new trainer has existed and various suitable candidates have come and gone. We believe Melbourne's Peter Moody would have jumped at the chance to train in Hong Kong had it been offered any time in the two years following Oughton's departure. Times change and Moody is now the leading trainer in Melbourne, with a conveyor belt of top horses rolling through the yard, including world champion sprinter Black Caviar, and nothing short of a midnight kidnapping at gunpoint would remove him from his post now. A sorry miss for Hong Kong.
But there was a view within the club that a certain northern-southern hemisphere balance had to be maintained, despite the fact the handful of northern hemisphere-based trainers applying to come here either did not have a strong enough profile to make them an attractive proposition, due their age, experience or level of success, or had one that made them downright unattractive for the same reasons.
In addition, the insistence on a new expat from Europe ignored the level of success achieved by southern hemisphere trainers here coming from a similar scenario of speed-oriented racing and training and racing on flat circle tracks, instead of glorious open gallops.
Four years plus down the track, the club can feel quietly smug the wait has been worthwhile.
British-born Gibson is the right kind of age, at 41, has a solid performance profile that includes Group One wins in France and on the international stage with Doctor Dino, and a background that looks likely to make him an ideal candidate.
One of the issues facing foreign trainers entering the Hong Kong system is their very deep roots in racing somewhere else. Most grow up in a racing environment as sons of trainers, as jockeys, people who spent their lives around racing stables and accrued their skills almost by osmosis.
There is nothing wrong with any of that - in fact, it leads to natural instincts for the business that have obviously served them well in their environment of origin. But it also can have an effect on whether trainers adapt well, transplanted into a new environment with slightly altered requirements, and some careers are hampered by an insistence on trying to change the environment here to suit their skills, instead of adapting their skills to the new surrounds.
While Gibson did grow up around horses, with his father an amateur point-to-point rider, his intention was to be a vet when he was studying in England. He was only introduced to what he has described as 'proper racing' when he went with fellow teenage students to the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 1989 and the group collectively backed the winner, Nashwan, and understandably took a shine to the game.
Gibson subsequently abandoned vet study for business school and then to learning French in its native tongue as his professional goal. He stumbled into stables at Chantilly and fell in love with it again.
Thus, Gibson came to the sport without the preconceptions that might be born of a long family background and that, and an obvious willingness to learn, may stand him in good stead coming to a racing culture and an environment so practically distant from the wide green gallops and horse-friendly fields of France.