The irrepressible and iridescent Andy Leung Ting-wah was at it again at Happy Valley last night, an unexpected running double of Class Five winners solidifying his position as “King of Class Five” and taking his win total to 399 – the race is now on to get to 400 before his time is up. And then the question is: what will he do when he stops leading in occasional winners at Happy Valley?
Barring another change of birth date from Andy, the 65-year-old is due for retirement at the end of this season, and a post-horse racing career awaits. He is striking at a viper-like rate of a win every 4.6 meetings this season and still has more than 20 meetings to get his triple century. And when we say viper, we mean a placid, non-venomous variety.
“King of Class Five” is a bit of a backhanded compliment. Winning any race is nice and it must take some talent to win with a 950-pound squib like Creative Union – an animal so small he looks like he could be stabled in a Mong Kok cage home. Being the king of the lowest class of racing isn’t something any trainer sets out to achieve. The idea is to have good horses that improve over time and reach their best potential.
Twelve of the 28 horses on Andy’s books are in Class Five. A cynic might say the rest are headed there and he just hasn’t had a chance to weave his special brand of magic. There might be something to that though as his six top-rated horses are imports that are yet to race in Hong Kong – he probably won’t have time to get them down into the cellar grade before the end of this term though.
Leung’s "dirty dozen" in Class Five have accounted for the vast majority of his wins lately – 10 of his 13 this term, including his last five victories, have been in the bottom grade.
As comparison, just one of John Moore’s 57 horses is in Class Five and that’s a recent stable transfer yet to have a start for him, while none of John Size’s in-demand boxes contain a Class Five galloper.
According to SCMP Racing Post’s interactive statistics, since the start of 1999, 85 of Leung's 295 wins - a tick under 29 per cent of them - have been in Class Five or Six. That’s right, you heard that correct: Class Six. They incorporated it into Class Five around 10 years ago. For all of the derision we treat Class Five with, imagine the fun and games of Class Six. Did these horses even have four legs?
There are advantages to having most of your horses in Class Five. For one thing, the races are on earlier in the meeting and it can guarantee an early night – something to consider in your later years. Trust me, those 11pm finishes at Happy Valley can be killers and not having a horse rated higher than 70 means not ever having to stick around until closing time.
But if you think Andy goes home, slips into his slippers and a neon yellow smoking jacket to watch the rest of the meeting on TV, you’re wrong.
Both of Andy’s winners last night jumped from wide gates and when asked post-race if he had a plan heading into the two races, he answered by offering a detailed description of what he was up to later that night. “My plan? I’m going ballroom dancing. I’m going to tango!” he exclaimed, as if the reporter should have known what was the most obvious thing in the world.
Of course, Andy had a plan for Richard Fourie on both winners and is noted for producing a set of riding instructions so intricate his jockeys need a GPS to remember where to go and a teleporter to be in the four places they are requested to be in the final 800m. It’s a wonder the printout handed to the rider doesn’t include a list of groceries to collect on the way to the gates, or a round of drinks to pick up passing the Football Club.
Which brings to mind our job options for Andy, post season 2012-13. We’ve thought long and hard about this and came up with three:
Military strategist: Listen to the masterful race plan delivered to Fourie earlier this year: "I wanted him to jump, not too fast, but then move up and sit in behind the pace, then pull clear into daylight at the 300m," Leung said. "It was like a perfect war plan – we creep up behind, then catch, and then boom." Boom indeed, tell me Andy wouldn’t have you smearing your face with warpaint and going over the top. Although, one proviso, under no circumstances would Andy be allowed on the front line – those iridescent yellow or pink jackets would make him a sitting duck for snipers.
Celebrity stylist: This is the short-priced favourite and Andy’s fung shui expertise would be perfect for this role. Whether dressing up at the track, or dressing down at morning trackwork, or just wearing sunglasses to night-time meetings at Happy Valley, Andy is a picture of sartorial elegance. A little known fact, that may or may not actually be true: Andy has actually already made his debut as a stylist and made a cameo in PSY’s infuriating international megahit "Gangnam Style" - we think that’s him in the yellow jacket at 1.42.
Hong Kong handicapper: Anyone can sit around and argue about how good Ambitious Dragon, California Memory and Military Attack are, but who wants to sit around and sort out the slow coaches? This is where Andy steps in and could be a vital member of Nigel Grey’s team. Who better to rank the worst horses in town? It seems Andy is already making his case too, taking every chance he gets to rub the handicapper’s nose in it when he wins: "Blame the handicapper," he said on Wednesday night. "Those horses were rated too low."
Whatever Andy heads off to next, we wish him well in his endeavours and hope we see that bright yellow jacket in the Beer Garden from time to time before he tangos off into the night.