The Sacred Kingdom of bike-riding horse trainers
There was no settling in period for Happy Lucky Dragon Win when we first started at the SCMP. Get off a plane at 10pm on a Sunday and at Sha Tin trackwork the following morning for a 6am start.
First person we see is champion jockey Darren Beadman. The same Darren Beadman from the posters on my childhood bedroom wall, riding horses like Super Impose, Saintly and Octagonal. He is riding a bicycle.
So as I’m introduced to a racing legend, here I am stuck between thinking; “Wow, it’s Darren Beadman, how good is this?” and “Why is he riding a bicycle to work? Has he been busted for drink driving and lost his licence?” (In my previous experience, that’s pretty much the only feasible reason an adult male would ride a bicycle to work).
As we are chatting, it becomes surreal; Melbourne Cup-winning trainer David Hall cruises by on a mountain bike and there’s John Moore getting in his slipstream and John Size casually peddling by. It quickly became clear everyone from jockeys, to trainers and trackwork riders all take a pushbike to work. It’s not because Sha Tin is some environmentally conscious, car-free zone, nor is it a weird faux-utopian and virtually vehicle-less village like Discovery Bay.
And if it was, Tony Cruz would surely have his own pimped out golf cart to zip around in, probably with a driver. Sha Tin is more like an equine version of a gated community, or somewhere between that and a concentration camp. The jockeys’ and trainers’ apartments are less than a kilometre from the horses and track – it’s not worth driving, but an annoying distance to walk - so "pushies" are perfect.
So who is the best bike rider among the trainers? If the perilous Pre-Season Carnival’s Jockey Sprint was replaced, not by the return of the ill-fated "trainers riding ponies" race, but with a bicycle race, who would win?
In the style stakes, and on the score of flash gear and equipment, our favourite fashionista Dennis Yip Chor-hong leads the way, of course. But having the coolest bike and a head-to-toe fluoro pink lycra outfit does not make you a good cyclist – just a target for abuse and fruit thrown from passing cars.
A quick survey of the local press corps on the cycling ability of trainers’ revealed some shock answers.
One of the most surprising responses we got to the question of who had the most “bike game” was the robust South African Tony Millard. Who, despite being in relatively good shape, is built more like a Springbok forward than a velodrome speedster. The seemingly outlandish claim was that Millard had competed in the South African version of the Tour de France, and not as a youngster either, it was only a few years ago. Millard having a lend of our Chinese colleagues, or b. a severe, and literal, case of Chinese whispers.
In the interests of quality journalism, Happy Lucky Dragon Win checked with Millard if it was true that he rode in the “South African tour”. As it turns out, the event Millard competed in was the “Cape Argus”; the world’s largest timed bicycle race. So in a way it’s bigger than the Tour de France. But it’s also open to everyone, from amateur enthusiasts to professionals. It’s no walk in the park though, at a gruelling 95km in a day, and includes some lung-busting climbs, so credit to him. Millard still rides everyday to maintain fitness and is an advocate of the its effectiveness as an impact-free exercise.
But after doing the form, the man starting favourite in the “Best Bike-riding Trainer at Sha Tin Stakes" (a class five event) is a bloke we would have previously had 100-1 to win any athletic contest; the diminutive 60-year-old Gary Ng Tik-keung. We are reliably informed Ng is in fact “The Sacred Kingdom of bike riding horse trainers”. A small section of society for sure are “bike riding horse trainers”, but being known as the Scared Kingdom of anything is cause for celebration. The cynical among you may say that it’s nice that Gary at least excels at something.
Apparently Ng used to be something of a porker, and has whipped himself into shape on the bike, losing 30 or more pounds. He’d nearly be fighting in the same weight division as Me Tsui Yu-sak these days.
A few years back, some of the local journalists went on a hill climb up in the New Territories with Ng, plus some other trainers and stable staff. All were left gasping for air in the wake of the mighty “Sacred” Ng as he pushed to the peak, and they were left to dismount and push up the steep final incline.
It just goes to show, looks can be deceiving – not all adults riding a bike to work have a DUI hanging over their head, and Gary Ng may be a contender if he ever heads to Cape Town with Millard for the Argus.