Hong Kong’s long off-season is the envy of other racing jurisdictions around the world. It’s a chance to switch off and recharge, but it’s not like nothing happens around here, so let’s play catch-up with the top five off-season happenings.
The first thing you might have noticed is this blog has an auspicious new name: Happy Lucky Dragon Win. Now, you might think it was formulated through exhaustive customer research and consultation with high-paid marketing gurus. But we actually named it the same way Hong Kong owners name their horses. We put some popular words in a hat and randomly pulled out four.
Obviously Happy, Lucky, Dragon and Win were all there, but so were Good, Super, Fortune, Golden, Gold, Red, Boy, Elite, Bo Bo, Horse, Horsie, Baby, Handbag, Turbo, Smart, Supreme and of course, Money. Any combination of two, three or even four of these words usually creates an awesome Hong Kong horse (or blog) name; Super Fortune Elite, Golden Dragon Horsie, Super Money Boy – you can mix and match, or even double-up, like the owners of Money Win Wins, Good Boy Boy or Happy Yeah Yeah have done to great effect. So, blog names aside, what were the highlights of the off-season?
1 YIPSTER PARTIES LIKE HE JUST WON THE FLUKIEST TRAINERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP OF ALL TIME
Isn’t it great that Dennis Yip Chor-hong didn’t get carried away with his historic championship win last season? Other than releasing a set of limited edition jeans to honour the occasion and holding a lavish party for more than 600 of his closest friends.
The pre-season bash saw hundreds of the Yipster’s closest friends seated at 88 tables in the Sha Tin parade ring, complete with arrivals on horse-drawn carriages and celebrity performers. Other than the jeans and the subdued gathering, unless you were at Happy Valley on July 10, you probably wouldn’t even know he had won anything.
The jeans are something special and no surprise given that Yip is something of a fashionista who frequently rocks his own designer outfits at trackwork. There are only 100 pairs, each custom-made in Japan and we were lucky enough to get our hands on some; now we don’t know whether to frame them or wear them down in Wan Chai.
The celebration party was a classic evening of revelry and excessive consumption of Grey Goose vodka. First, Yip and his stable staff made a grand entrance from behind a giant curtain, arms aloft to the theme of Rocky, before a rousing rendition of Queen classic We Are The Champions. Each of the 88 bain maries contained a dish named in honour of one of Yip’s horses, apparently the Fat Choy Oohlala stir-fry was to die for, but no truth to the rumour the Dars Auto curry actually contained the multiple winner and dirt-track hero.
2 ANDY LEUNG TING-WAH WON’T GO AWAY
We can’t help but feel partly responsible after we championed the cause of Andy Leung Ting-wah last season, which we thought would be his last. But just like when Andy got his age “corrected” on his Hong Kong ID to wrangle an extra year of training two season back, it seems he won’t go away.
Officials were forced to give Andy a not-so-subtle tap on the shoulder a couple of weeks ago to remind him to stay out of the trainers’ stand at Sha Tin. Seems Andy was there, binoculars and stopwatch in hand, offering some “helpful” hints to Francis Lui Kin-wai on how best to train one of his former horses.
“I never went to the trainers’ stand once last season when I was training,” Andy said, before also claiming he was just saying “Hi” to his old buddies and not giving out advice. Secondly, a reminder for Lui: the best thing about getting an Andy Leung stable transfer is that he doesn’t train them anymore.
3 HOWARD CHENG YUE-TIN GETS SOME MECCANO PIECES PLACED IN HIS ARM
We’ve spoken before about how tough jockeys are, but here’s a graphic representation. Howard Cheng Yue-tin was the worst affected in last June’s horror five-horse fall at Happy Valley. Doctors decided to play with some Meccano in Howard’s left upper-arm.
Another round of surgery last Monday to stimulate bone growth was a success, but he won’t be back until December at the earliest. It was nice to see Howard front and centre in the presentation photo after Smart Volatility’s victory yesterday, just making sure he will be back in the saddle later in the season.
4 OLIVIER DOLEUZE FALLS OVER
Regular readers would know how love for the “coolest man on the planet” and all-round great guy Olivier Doleuze is borderline man-crush material. But we still have to include his embarrassing effort from the prestigious Jockey Sprint at the pre-season carnival. Doleuze burst to the front in the middle stages of the age-handicap event, and with the theme from Chariots of Fire playing his head, began to sprout wings as he pulled farther and farther away.
But he stopped if shot at the 10m mark, the victim of a nasty foothole or he just got tired and fell over. Italian newcomer Nicola Pinna snatched victory, leaping over the Frenchman and showing little pity for his rival. Some cynical observers reckoned the HK$5,000 cheque will come in handy for Pinna, given the struggles of some new European jockeys over the years.
Other things to watch for here; Douglas Whyte’s sportsmanship in helping Ollie back to the jockeys’ room (he was not seriously hurt), and the the absolute “cold as a spud” effort out the back from Zac Purton. If there was betting on this event, Purton would be serving a lengthy stretch for a “running and handling” charge after breaking into a leisurely walk at the start.
5 SIDE WINKERS BECOME “SHEEPSKIN CHEEK PIECES”
The change of the official name of the headgear “side winkers” to “sheepskin cheek pieces” was brought about to bring Hong Kong into line with other far less professional and successful racing jurisdictions.
A couple of questions; if the change was necessary at all, is the “sheepskin” part? We don’t call blinkers “nylon hoods with plastic blinkers attached”. They are just blinkers – we really don’t need to know what they are made of. At least it is shortened to cheek pieces, or “CP” in the form guides.
And the second question, won’t the name sheepskin cheek pieces get confused with the delicacy served up in the Happy Valley press room; the delicious “Curried sheep cheek pieces”?
OK, we made that up, but the truth is no-one actually knows what this is.