Former chef finds his oeuvre in hooves at the Sha Tin racecourse
When former chef Chan Shing-cheung tuned in to the equestrian events at the 2008 Olympics, he never thought it would be the first step on a journey that's given him an intimate familiarity with the hooves of some of Hong Kong's finest racehorses.
But five years on Chan, 35, is one of just 27 master farriers serving the city's 1,200 racehorses.
Part blacksmith, part cobbler, farriers like Chan must size, change and fit horseshoes.
From 8am to 5pm, six days a week in race season, Chan works in the racing stable of famed horse trainer Derek Cruz at the Sha Tin racecourse.
After embarking on a four-year apprenticeship with the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Chan was able to obtain his certificate in farriery and quickly became a class-one master shoe fitter.
"Hong Kong farriers are among the world's best. We know how to fit shoes for nearly all breeds of horse," says Chan, as he beats an aluminium horseshoe into shape with a mallet.
Chan then nails the size-33 horseshoe into the hoof of Joy and Fun, a 10-year-old Australian gelding. Despite the clanging sound and painful image of the nail being bashed in, the thoroughbred barely flinches.
"Only we know how to nail horseshoe into the non-sensitive part of the hoof without hurting the horse," he adds, pointing to the millimetres-thin U-shaped "white line", or hoof wall, which protects the sensitive parts.
Horse-shoe fitting is a science in and of itself. Both the front and rear legs require different shoes.
"I know the foot shape and size of each horse in the stable by heart. They are all different."
Joy and Fun is to participate in Sunday's Longines International Races in Sha Tin, one of the most important fixtures in the racing calendar for the world's leading horses, jockeys, trainers and owners.
Joy and Luck's race could be one of his last international competitions. At 10 years old, or roughly 40 in horse years, he is nearing retirement age, says Chan.
"I love horses," he says, giving Joy and Luck a fraternal pat on the neck. "This is my favourite. We're like brothers in arms."