The omen bet of the year delivered yesterday when struggling racehorse Kung Hei Fat Choi thrilled tens of thousands of punters at the Lunar New Year meeting.
Winless after 14 starts and stranded at the bottom of Hong Kong's lowest grade of racing, the five-year-old gelding broke through on a day rich with symbolism at Sha Tin.
Ridden by Greg Cheyne, a jockey born in a year of the dragon, 1976, Kung Hei Fat Choi had his share of luck in the race too, gaining an ideal tactical spot in the running when he could have easily been cut off.
Bitterly cold weather stunted the crowd and contributed to a slight fall in turnover, but many of the 72,496 fans on course, 5,640 cross betting at Happy Valley and many more in their homes cheered wildly when Cheyne and his mount crossed the line for a juicy payout of HK$65 for a HK$10 outlay. Trainer Richard Gibson, who only moved to Hong Kong for the start of this racing season, said he didn't know the meaning of his horse's name not too long ago, but was glad to prepare a winner 'for all of Hong Kong'.
Cheyne said the crowd reaction was one usually reserved for a top grade event. 'The crowd was loving it and it was a great feeling,' he said.
The omen bets didn't stop there, with the day's feature race, the HK$6 million Group One Mercedes-Benz Classic Mile, won by Sweet Orange - a horse who had not won for six months and was a 14-1 outsider.
While there was a dip in betting turnover yesterday, the Jockey Club has been riding a rising tide of turnover this season - though chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said a computer server problem midway through the meeting meant internet betting was not available between 2.30pm and 3.30pm.