POPULAR Nigel Tiley was in the middle of a disaster on New Year's Eve and knew nothing about it. The New Zealand jockey went to Lan Kwai Fong with wife Katherine and friends to see the New Year in - and he left for home shortly before 12.30 am. ''I went down Wyndham Street and heard the ambulance sirens coming along the bottom of the road but thought nothing of it. ''I had simply gone out for about two hours to see the New Year in with friends from here and overseas and as soon as the countdown to midnight was over I headed for home,'' he said. Like everyone else in Hongkong, Tiley was totally stunned by the magnitude of the tragedy. ''It's absolutely horrifying and you realise how lucky you could have been. We were at the top end of the area and not really out celebrating in the streets.'' YOU have to hand it to Jockey Club starter Mike Tibbatts - he's a bloke who can take a joke. As is his wont at this time of the year, Mike turned out at Happy Valley yesterday sporting his traditional bowler hat. It was a particular piece of headgear that first-season jockey Darren Beadman had not seen before. But the likable Aussie isn't short of a quip or two and said to Tibbatts: ''Okay, Laurel's here, where's the other half!'' But like a good chap, Tibbatts took it on the chin. TALKING of chins, we saw Richard Chew's yesterday. That's been hidden for quite some time under a beard. Prize for spotting the less hirsute Chew went to trainer Bruce Hutchison. ''A number of other people did not actually notice that it had gone, but Bruce certainly did,'' said Richard. Not slow to come forward, Hutchison said: ''I probably should have been a stipe I spot things that quickly.'' THERE'S nothing like a bit of cut and thrust to make the game that bit more interesting. When Courageous scored a gripping, last-stride win over Champion Way in the seventh event yesterday, there was an extra spring to the step of Caspar Fownes who punched the air in real celebration when the gutsy galloper obliged. It wasn't just another win for the in-form Fownes stable . . . it will be fairly readily remembered that Champion Way used to be an inmate. He was also responsible for a tremendous dead-heat over 1,650 metres at the Valley two seasons ago but Fownes lost the horse in the merry-go-round that at times distressingly characterises Hongkong racing. Well, the Fownes stable may well have had the last laugh yesterday with a fighting victory that was very, very sweet. IT could not have been a luckier start to the season for the Jockey Club -if you take local lore into account. Turnover at yesterday's meeting was $888 million - and we all know how lucky the Cantonese figure of eight is meant to be. DANNY Lee won his race to start the New Year on the right foot for him but he's also $3,000 lighter in the pocket as well. Lee rode Classic Pleasure to victory for trainer Peter Ng Bik-kuen but the Stewards had him in for striking the horse in front of the saddle. As a result a fine was levied which lightened Lee's end of the stake money percentage somewhat. An inquiry into the use of the whip by local rider Hung Kwok-hing on Steel Supremo has been adjourned.