Forget Google Translate: your guide to post-race quotes
Sometimes people don’t mean what they say – or more to the point, they don’t say what they really mean – and things are no different in the politically sensitive and close-knit world of Hong Kong racing.
We’ve already covered the coded language of racing participants a few weeks back but there’s another level to what trainers and jockeys say after a race, and it’s often left to the reader to do exactly that – “read” between the lines.
You know how someone saying “I don’t mean to be racist...” or “Not to be rude or anything...” followed by an ominous “but” can alert you to the fact they are about to say something jaw-droppingly racist or rude?
Well, some helpful hints can teach you the telltale signs of what trainers and jockeys are really getting at when they make their post-race monologues.
First of all, some old favourites passed on through the generations. “This horse needs further” usually means “this horse is too slow and I don’t have any other horses to replace it with”, or “This horse is still green” can mean “This horse is just plain dumb and completely unco-ordinated”. But those have been around for centuries.
Refreshing honesty from trainers and jockeys is a real feature of post-race analysis at Happy Valley and Sha Tin, but even when it seems people are being blunt and to the point, are they really? Or is there a sneaky agenda?
When Class Five battler Solar Dragon won on New Year’s Day, trainer Michael Chang Chun-wai gave this scathing and highly amusing assessment of his horse. “Look at the horse he beat, he is a donkey,” Chang said, referring to 23-rated Spectacular Award. “He beat a donkey, and my horse is only slightly better than a donkey. Honestly, he beat an eight-year-old by a short head in an 11-runner race where he got all the favours.”
And Chang wasn’t done. When asked to pinpoint the issues that had held poor old Solar Dragon back, the likeable trainer uncharacteristically let rip again: “What’s his problem? He is a Class Five horse, that’s his problem. He isn’t very good.”
Solar Dragon was last seen crying behind the Sha Tin tie-up stalls, but does Chang really despise the horse that much? Or was he trying to make the case to the all-important handicappers not to put his horse up in the ratings? “He got all the favours” and “That was a weak race” are classic subliminal messages aimed squarely at brainwashing Nigel Gray’s handicapping team.
Some trainers and jockeys get straight to the point and ask the handicapper to be lenient – some even treat the post-race press conference as a chance to put a bid in. “That’s worth five points,” they beg after a two-length win going away, struggling to keep a straight face in front of the assembled Chinese press.
The best quotes are where winning connections don’t want to tread on toes or hurt the feelings of others. For example…
What the trainer says: “The senior jockey getting on helped . . .”
What he really means: “The apprentice who rode him last time is terrible and he won’t ever be riding one of my horses again.”
And again: “He needed a strong rider . . . ”
What he really means: “The last bloke who rode him was as weak as water – and to be honest, I don’t think he was trying.”
Then there’s the classic “butt kiss” quote: “It’s nice to win a race for this owner . . .”
What he really means: “This owner is filthy, stinking rich and a difficult and demanding so-and-so as well. I am so relieved to finally win a race for him. Thank God he is off my back and now he might buy me some more horses.”
Of course, jockeys get into the butt-kissing action, too: “It’s great to ride a winner for him . . .”
That can easily be translated to: “This trainer never gives me any decent rides and is always kicking me off for Joao Moreira or Douglas Whyte – about time he stuck with me.”
One more to watch for from trainers is a doozy, and again requires some knowledge of the ratings-based handicap system. When a winning trainer says something like “he is getting near his mark and we will just have to find the right race for him”, he might actually mean something like “he will go up seven points for that and up in grade, and basically he has no chance of winning for the next few months, so we are going to run him on the dirt and up the straight a few times, anywhere he has no chance, so he runs unplaced and drops back down in the ratings”.
So, armed with your new translation guide, good luck backing a winner on Sunday. More importantly, enjoy the post-race quotes that have sometimes been delivered with a wink and a nod from trainers and jockeys.