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Patience and loyalty might be rare commodities within the closed shop that is the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s ownership ranks, but being exceptionally wealthy certainly isn’t.
Eagle Regiment’s Group One win on Sunday was not only a training triumph for Manfred Man Ka-leung, his sprinter returning after nearly a year away from racing, but also a credit to connections who have allowed the five-year-old to properly recuperate after being injured.
Owners’ outlandish demands clearly aren’t driven by financial necessity in this part of the world, but usually by a lack of horse sense and a culture that expects instant results. So while we’re guessing the Eagle Regiment team aren’t in need of a quid, it’s admirable all the same that they allowed their horse time off.
Hong Kong is unique in that you can’t just buy a horse, find a trainer and begin racing, like you can in most places. You need a permit, and the only way to get one is to pay a lot to become a Hong Kong Jockey Club member and win one in a ballot.
Either that or rock up to International Sales with a very big cheque book and buy an essentially untried three-year-old at auction.
They say there’s a big difference between being rich and wealthy. A rich man owns a garage full of expensive cars, but a wealthy man, he owns the company that makes the cars.
Property developer and electronics mogul Pan Sutong is rumoured to have paid what would be a record US$2million for Hong Kong Derby pre-post fancy Akeed Mofeed, trained by Richard Gibson. His second stringer, Gold-Fun, has already snared the first leg of the four-year-old series, the Hong Kong Classic Mile. Akeed Mofeed would have started favourite had he lined up in the Classic Mile, but he was kept on ice by Gibson – forgoing an extra chance at some of the HK$6 million in prize money.
Pan is wealthy. A rich person might own a string of polo ponies. Pan owns a polo club. It’s one of the biggest and best in the world, too, a sprawling and decadent complex in Tianjin, China, 130km South east of Beijing.
He has more than 200 polo ponies and a staff of four full-time vets and up to a dozen professional polo players on the books.
Pan’s Metropolitan Polo Club is currently hosting the Snow Polo World Cup, with 12 leading polo nations battling in a modified polo format – three players rather than four per side and using a small soccer ball - on snow of course.
We say leading polo nations, and through Pan’s influence, Hong Kong has become one of those and is defending Snow Polo World Cup champions.
Being an aspiring media whore, this blogger filled in as an “expert” commentator on the local English speaking television coverage during the week. We went in with the express purpose of dubbing someone the “Michael Jordan of snow polo” – a player who transcends their sport with star power.
Hong Kong’s mercurial playmaker Guilermo Terrera could have got the "MJ of snow polo" honour , but he already had a cool nickname: “The Amazing One” . The Argentine-born Terrera was also at the centre of the curliest question asked during the coverage: “How is Guilermo eligible to play for Hong Kong?” Fair question too, it doesn’t sound like he grew up in Kowloon.
The Michael Jordan of snow polo label goes to Kiwi John Paul Clarkin, who scored this miraculous, juggling snow polo goal in St Moritz.
While we’re on links, and rich and wealthy people, German public television aired a documentary set during international week recently, featuring Longines Hong Kong Cup runner Feuerblitz.
It’s in German, obviously, so we’ve gone through, without the help of a translator, and picked out the best bits.
1.09 As Jockey Club CEO Winfried Englebrecht-Bresges – “EB” - is filmed mingling with important looking people at Happy Valley, a watch model in the foreground thinks she is the focus and stares directly at camera, pouting, for an inordinate amount of time. Awkward.
1.12 “EB” speaking his native German, we think. Or it could be English in reverse, as he delivers powerful subliminal messages like “achieve and succeed” and other strategic lines aimed at boosting turnover. The man is a genius.
3.00 Trackwork, and the least successful “get out of the way of the camera” move of all time by Sha Tin stable manager Damien Yap.
3.40 Trackwork again, and aforementioned media whore being interviewed wearing an ill-fitting hat that cost HK$10 at Mong Kok Ladies’ Market. We thought it looked cool at the time, the hat has since been burnt.
5.48 This is the highlight, and an excuse to show our favourite racing-related YouTube clip from last year. As EB surveys his empire and awaits a race, popular local racing reporter Benny Cheung is sitting right behind him on a rail, having a loud conversation with no-one in particular. Then, as the race finishes, other local journalists throw professional decorum aside and celebrate wildly after backing the winner. EB seems slightly perturbed. It could have been worse, this is Benny’s emotional reaction, after Zac Purton won on Power Alkhafif in Macau last year. The place does this to people.
7.00 It’s that media whore again, this time on a slightly out-of-context, anti-materialistic rant against big brands, and probably just feeling insecure because he also got his “Hugo Bus” shirt from the Ladies’ Market.
Hong Kong racing lacks nothing in colour or excitement – but it is missing that fairytale aspect of the battling owners and trainers up against the big boys.
Owners here exist in a separate world to the desperate rank and file punters that make the HKJC the most successful racing operation in the world.
So while racing is a great leveler, and racetracks have been described as places where “blokes share jokes with Sheikhs” – you’ve got to reach a certain level first before you can play properly here.