China’s One in a Billion equestrian star just one of the crowd in Hong Kong

Alex Hua Tian is happy to watch the world-class riders at the Longines Masters at AsiaWorld-Expo

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 February, 2016, 7:55pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 February, 2016, 9:42am

Alex Hua Tian is sometimes known as One in a Billion because of his history-making exploits but this weekend the Chinese star is quite happy to be just one in the crowd at the Longines Masters.

As the event kicked off on Friday at AsiaWorld-Expo, Hua took his place in the stands to watch in action the likes of showjumping’s world number two Simon Delestre, of France, ninth-ranked Bertram Allen, of Ireland, and Britain’s John Whitaker – last year’s winner of the featured Longines Grand Prix here.

And Hua admitted to quite liking the opportunity to not, for once, be the centre of attention.

“It gives me a chance to watch the best showjumpers in the world – and that’s something I never get to do,” Hua.

The great thing about this whole event is it just shows how far equestrian sports have come in Asia, and in China
Alex Hua Tian

“The great thing about this whole event is it just shows how far equestrian sports have come in Asia, and in China. An Olympic medal might not come this year, but I have no doubt that it will definitely come one day.”

The Chinese eventer made history at the Beijing Olympics of 2008. At just 18 years of age he became the youngest-ever equestrian athlete at the Games while also becoming the first-ever rider from the country to qualify for and then compete at the event, which was hosted here in Hong Kong.

And enraptured nation labelled him One in a Billion, the tag reflecting the fact he was – and is –the only mainland Chinese rider competing on the international circuit and the United Kingdom-based 26-year-old is looking good for another crack at Olympic glory in Rio in August as he holds a comfortable lead in his qualifying group, with the final field being announced next month.

“A lot of things can go wrong between now and then so I have to be cautious but I am also confident,” said Hua.

As well as taking in the action, Hua has lined up a masterclass training session for some of Hong Kong’s most promising riders on Saturday after paying a visit to the Beas River complex owned and operated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

“Since 2008 equestrian sports here have grown,” he said. “I’m proud to be a part of that and will help in any way I can.”

A lot of things can go wrong between now and then so I have to be cautious but I am also confident. Since 2008 equestrian sports here have grown. I’m proud to be a part of that and will help in any way I can
Alex Hua Tian

The Longines Masters kicked off Friday with the staging of the HKJC Trophy and the HKJC Race of the Riders event which saw four local jockeys – led by reigning champion Joao Moriera – test their skills over the jumps.

The weekend’s marquee events are Saturday’s Longines Speed Challenge and the Longines Grand Prix on Sunday.

While French rider Patrice Delaveau stands to win a Masters Grand Slam super bonus of 500,000 (HK$4.3 million) if he triumphs on Sunday – following his victory in the same event at the Paris leg of the Longines series – much of the attention over the weekend will be focused on 19-year-old Irish phenom Allen, the youngest rider in the world’s top 50 and winner of the Longines Speed Challenge in Los Angeles.

The teenager duly delivered on Hong Kong debut last night, racing away with the HKJC Trophy with a final go-round of the circuit that had the crowd roaring its approval. He was on Quiet Easy but made it look quite the same thing – and then said he was confident heading into the main events.

“My horses are jumping well and I’m riding well,” said Allen. “I had a little bit of luck today – but you always need that.”

Hua, from the stands, readily admitted to being a fan.

“He’s the new kid on the block. He really goes for it and he’s quite fun to watch,” said Hua. “He’s really torn up the show jumping world over the past 12 months so it’ll be exciting to watch him.”