It's not the Smithsonian, but a couple of additions and the Hong Kong Racing Museum would be a sure-fire winner
A trip to the Hong Kong Racing Museum is a sure-fire way to shake off that pesky mid-season cynicism and fall in love with the sport all over again, but we can’t help but think this tribute to the Sport of Kings could be even better with a couple of key additions.
The 6,000-square foot museum set on the first turn at Happy Valley holds a fine catalogue of items from more than a century of racing – from newspaper cuttings reporting the inaugural meeting in 1846, through photos of the tragic Happy Valley fire of 1918 (of which this Wednesday marks the 96th anniversary to the day), and on to the professional era and subsequent betting boom that followed.
There is also the startling sight of the stuffed hide of 1990s champion River Verdon, who must have passed away in the middle of winter at the end of a three-month eating binge. There is something unsettling in seeing stuffed animal hides in museums, like they are going to jump up and bite you – and even more so when they look like an enormous woolly mammoth.
So how can we make the museum better?
Firstly, it isn’t modern enough and two new wings would need to be built.
The first would be the “Fashions on the Field” display. John Moore’s safari suits in khaki, blue and black are a given, but that’s just the start.
Style guru and fashionista Olivier Doleuze would be called on as co-ordinator for the display, and hopefully his own Puerto Rican band leader-inspired outfits would also be included, along with his all-silver and all-gold trackwork moon suits.
Then there is Dennis Yip Chor-hong’s limited edition commemorative jeans released in the off-season – the ones with the 69 embroidered into the back pocket (to mark the number of wins he had last season).
But seriously, Yip’s historic trainers’ championship – clinched in the final race of the season – is the type of thing that needs to be front and centre at the museum, to capture the imagination of potential race fans.
It was the first time a local trainer had won the title in more than a decade and it was a memorable night, full of flag waving and hysterical reaction from fans.
Let’s get some multimedia and interaction into the mix when it comes to the displays – the standard fare of old metal trainers’ badges and racebooks just doesn’t cut it anymore.
The other additional wing would be the “Hall of Shame” – what is racing if it doesn’t accept and even embrace its seedy underbelly?
The first item would be the intricate air-compressor powered poison dart apparatus that was discovered buried under the starting gates prior to a March 2007 meeting.
The system (pictured) was designed to shoot darts into the bellies of selected horses at the start. Now this is one that should most definitely be interactive – what better way to subdue the kiddies while on holiday than letting them loose on the tranquiliser dart system to see how it worked?
Descriptions of the best rorts from the “bad old days” on plaques, with the red and white handkerchiefs – those which were used to signal to riders from nearby apartment buildings who would be the winner (as jockeys couldn’t be trusted with that sort of information pre-race).
We can’t forget the horses either and a stuffed collection of some of the more crooked walking animals to grace the Sha Tin turf in Class Five, Six and Seven throughout the years has to be included. The anti-fungal shampoo bottle from Ivan Allan’s “Shampoogate” battle with the club would be a hit, too.
A qualifier for both the “fashions on the field” and the “Hall of Shame” is this clown, who ran on to the track at Happy Valley a few weeks ago:
These renovations really should have been part of the “racecourse master plan” released a couple of years back.
We eagerly await the response from Jockey Club officials and look forward to visiting a renovated racing museum soon.