Jockey Club chief hails 'best HK season ever'
The Horse Of the Year voting panel surprised many but got it right in voting Ambitious Dragon the best horse in the land and the Jockey Club was bathed in the brilliant sunshine of what chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges described as 'the best Hong Kong season ever'.
The 74,000-plus who turned out to see a Sha Tin card in honour of the season's champions stood as the best final-day crowd for five years and the HK$1.47 billion they bet was the strongest finale since 2001.
'The atmosphere was fantastic and it was a fantastic end to what I believe, all things together, was the best Hong Kong racing season ever,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said as the 2011-12 racing season slipped into history, with turnover up, crowds up and seemingly nothing but blue sky, despite the clouds around the world economic scene.
'If you look at the circumstances, considerable uncertainty about the economic environment, this season has been phenomenal.
'Betting duty to the government back over HK$10 billion, turnover for the season HK$86.1 billion, which was a 7.1 per cent increase on last year, and we are very pleased with attendances, as we have arrested what had been a downward trend in crowds.
'Almost two million people came out to the track to watch racing this season, which is amazing when you look at the technology and ways to access racing we have now.'
The various awards, including special Lifetime Achievement awards for retired stars Able One and Sacred Kingdom, in most cases went to the most obvious winner, but Ambitious Dragon was able to win both the Champion Miler and Champion Middle Distance awards and secure what had been a Horse Of The Year award with plenty of questions and only confusing answers. Royal Ascot winner Little Bridge, however, pipped him for the Most Popular Horse by public vote.
'I think the auditor who counts the votes took much longer than usual this year,' quipped Engelbrecht-Bresges. 'As someone who was on the judging panel, this was the closest vote I've seen.'
Douglas Whyte's mounts claimed a treble for other jockeys, as he had stood down from the meeting after reinjuring a shoulder during the week, but the Durban Demon was on hand and apparently fresh from the hairdresser, shorn close, to accept his 12th successive title as champion jockey.
The post-racing festivities peaked with the annual tossing of toys into the crowd and champagne spraying by the jockeys as they clung to the starting stalls and were driven down past the crowd. There were streamers and dancers strewn across the track in equal measure, people in horse costumes and flag waving, and even a moment to give thanks that those on duty around the track aren't given pepper spray for crowd control purposes.
As Whyte strode towards the presentation area on the turf, trailed by wife Nikki and daughter Sheikara, with son Ethan trailing a distant last but breaking into a gallop to make up the lost ground. As he tore past, unstoppable, the panic on the guard's face was clear and he considered a flying tackle but elected instead to stay in position - there were other jockeys' children around by then.
John Size accepted a seventh trainers' championship win after one of his most memorable seasons, claiming the Derby for the first time.
'I'm quite proud to have been able to win another championship and of course the Derby means a lot to everyone here, and that includes me - it took me 11 years to win one so it can't be that easy to do,' he said.
Total turnover, in HK dollars, for the 2011-12 season, of which more than HK$10 billion went to the government in betting tax