Local trainer blitzes the field
Coming from behind, and pinning his hopes on a thrilling last race, trainer Dennis Yip showed he had the right stuff to become a champion
Champion trainer Dennis Yip Chor-hong will have no shortage of support in the grandstands and around the paddocks for the coming horse racing season.
In less than three weeks he hopes to see his stable steal a march on his rivals in the opening meeting at Sha Tin.
Local hero Yip, 46, emerged from the leading pack, to seize top honours in the last race of the season in July with Flying Elite at Happy Valley.
Earlier in the meeting he squandered a two-race advantage he held over fellow trainer Tony Cruz to throw the season winner into doubt at the last race. But he triumphed and the season showdown produced a thrilling climax for racegoers.
His achievement, becoming the first Chinese citizen to win the top title in more than a decade, curtailed the dominance of elite foreign-born trainers.
"Hongkongers wanted another, local, trainer to become champion so they encouraged me every day," he said.
"I never thought it would happen in my lifetime, so it's amazing."
Having won the admiration of Hongkongers, Yip wants to inspire a new generation of race lovers.
He hopes to play his part by nurturing the next Jockey Club apprentices, like Alvin Ng Ka-chun to reach their full potential.
"I never thought I would win a championship, not even when I became a trainer," he said.
"It's not easy in Hong Kong. It's so competitive with new trainers coming in all the time," Yip said.
In his three-decade association with horseracing, he says he's never seen the bid for the title so closely fought - to the final furlong - as it was last season.
"Hong Kong racing is quite tough, with all the best trainers from around the world here. The competition is strong," he said.
"The racing is quite close. The winner, second, third and fourth horses are often only separated by a length or half a length. It's very competitive."
The backing of fans fuelled a winning title chase that accelerated in March after Yip notched up a series of race victories to put him high up on the leaderboard.
Asked about his chance of winning the title at the start of last season, he would have put one of the "big four" stables ahead of him. As a 99-1 rank outsider, Yip offered generous odds with slim chances of winning.
Now, he joins the list as one of the punters' favoured bets heading into the new season, which starts on September 8.
All You Wish, voted Most Improved Horse by the Jockey Club, will spearhead Yip's campaign. The gelding has an exciting future with five wins under its belt.
With the first race rapidly approaching, Yip is ramping up efforts to retain the championship, but it's a long chase with more than 750 races over 10 months.
However, a bigger challenge looms large - matching the feats of his mentor, Brian Kan Ping-chee, a seven-time champion, who groomed Yip as his assistant trainer for almost a decade.
From "[knowing] nothing about racing" and enrolling in the Jockey Club's school of racing as an apprentice, he endured tough discipline learning to become a jockey - something he admits he rarely enjoyed. But he went on to ride 59 winners.
He eclipsed that by the 487 (and counting) victories as a trainer.
Yip is tipping the youngest of his two sons, Jason Yip Chun-san, 15, who shares a keen interest in racing, will take up the sport, and perhaps emulate his father's success in the saddle and the stable.