Horse racing

Horse trainer Brian Kan reflects on his fall from grace

Convicted on election corruption charges in 2011, horse trainer Brian Kan reflects on his life in the fast lane and what the future holds

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 3:05pm

For 25 years, horse trainer Brian Kan Ping-chee beat the odds consistently, backing five Hong Kong Derby champions, racking up as many as 1,100 wins at the track. Kan was also a powerful figure in rural politics, known throughout the New Territories.

Traces of his old bravado remain, but it comes in flashes, triggered by a memory of his former life, before he went to prison for election corruption. It's a difficult turn of events for "The Mighty Kan", who - at age 75 - is wondering how to spend what time he has left.

"I've lost face to see my friends," says Kan, his mood subdued but his voice quivering with emotion. He is contemplating moving "to somewhere where the fewer people who know me, the better."

During his interview with the Sunday Morning Post, Kan spoke often of his isolation and desire to leave the city. "I am not too happy in Hong Kong now."

He said he was considering moving to Britain where he has family and where he spent time as a youth - it was while working as a dishwasher there that he met an English jockey, an encounter that changed his life.

The Court of Final Appeal last week rejected his request for a final appeal against his conviction for election corruption. He had already completed the 14-week jail term imposed by a magistrate in 2011 and reaffirmed by the High Court last year. He was found to have offered HK$130,000 to village representative Liu Fu-sau in February that year to vote for him in the Sheung Shui District Rural Committee executive committee ballot the following month.

The Department of Justice confirmed it would seek an appeal over Kan's sentence, though a court date had not been fixed. The prospect of more time behind bars should the court increase the term would be daunting for most people, but Kan says he is staying calm about it.

"To be honest, being in jail is dreary. It would be superficial for anyone to say it's not," he says.

One thought continued to hound him during his time alone in his cell: why would people whom he offered help and mentorship turn against him in the end. Kan views himself as someone who offered "a helping hand to everyone when they were in need".

"You can have so much trust in somebody - someone so close to you - and you end up like this," Kan says, though he stresses he was not referring to anyone involved in his criminal case.

He blames only himself "for trusting the wrong people".

Before his trial, many people in Hong Kong looked up to Kan as the first Chinese to win five best trainer awards in the Western-dominated Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Pointing to a Post report about his latest court appearance earlier this month, Kan complained: "You stated that I won 'over 830' times. That's not accurate. I won 844 of them!"

He says he also won another 200 or so races in Macau, putting the total at 1,111.

"I was still popular among racing fans when I paid visits to racecourses after my time in jail - they still treated me as a hero," Kan says, with pride. "If I had really done something unforgivably wrong, would I have been so warmly welcomed?"

As an indigenous villager in Tsung Pak Long, Fanling, Kan served as the chairman of the Sheung Shui District Rural Committee for four terms, from 1988 to 2003.

He led protests against the government's attempts to change rules about village politics, though he never succeeded in winning a Legislative Council seat.

"I used to be aloof, but then I fell sharply to the ground," Kan said. "The blow that's stricken me is that I do not dare seek out my friends anymore. When my friends ask me to have meals together, I mostly reject the offers."

Kan now lives alone in his village house in Fanling, where he has spent most of his life - except in the 1960s, when he went to Britain and was later apprenticed to a horse trainer.