Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges had to reach as far as Japan to find a low light yesterday after a big crowd, strong racing and a jump in turnover greeted the banging of the gong for the new season at Sha Tin.
'Too bad that Lucky Nine doesn't have a bigger nose or this would have been the perfect day,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said, alluding to the Caspar Fownes-trained four-year-old's desperately narrow defeat in the HK$12 million Centaur Stakes in Osaka.
Acting Hong Kong Chief Executive Henry Tang Ying-yen wielded the gong effectively to send the season on its way before more than 62,000 fans witnessed the kick-off and voted at the windows for their favourite sport.
'It's been a dream start to the season,' said Engelbrecht-Bresges. 'Even if you take out the simulcast race, on which there was such a large increase in turnover, this was by every measurement the best start to a season since 2000-2001. It's an extremely satisfying result and the master plan investments in the course facilities have also met with approval. I've received plenty of favourable comment on those improvements from the owners' box. It's been a great day for racing.'
Attendance up 28.5 per cent year on year and turnover on the day up by 13 per cent to an eerie HK$911 million on 9/11 - including the Jockey Challenge but without adding the more than HK$16 million punters splurged on the simulcast.
And the action on the track let no-one down. Evergreen Joy And Fun was a popular winner of the HKSAR Chief Executive's Cup for Derek Cruz and jockey Brett Doyle, despite his double-figure odds.
The eight-year-old has been one of the most durable horses imaginable, overcoming not one but two injuries which might have ended his career, the latest at Royal Ascot last year when he fractured a cannon bone.
'He's back to his old self again,' said a delighted Cruz. 'This will be his last season whatever happens, but he'll be trained for the international races in December and then we might take him back to Dubai, where he won last year, for his final race.'
It was a mixed bag for punters, who didn't have to wait long for the first complete bolter of the season to win when Jacky Tong Chi-kit landed the Fownes-trained Victory Mascot at odds of 101-1 in the fourth race and virtually put in the bin any hopes of the big opening day Triple Trio jackpot going off.
Meanwhile in Japan, Fownes had the agony of another unlucky second in the Centaur after Green Birdie's defeat last year, and insult was added to injury when Green Birdie finished fourth this time but was placed second last after causing interference on the home turn.