The logistics of bringing 35 of the world's best racehorses and their human entourage to Hong Kong from all over the globe can frazzle even the most mild-mannered manager. And to achieve this while keeping both the horses and humans happy is not easy. It may sound an impossibility, but under the stewardship of the Jockey Club's John Ridley, these hundreds of loose threads magically come together to make a fine racing tapestry in December each year. Mr Ridley's title is head of racing operations and equestrian. He is in his 11th year with the Jockey Club, and this year's International Racing Series promises to be the biggest assignment yet. It theoretically started on November 24, when the club made public the invitations and acceptances by some of the world's biggest racing personalities. But it actually began much earlier than that, because international horses heading to Hong Kong needed to have inoculations during October. From mid-November, the pistons really start to pump. Horse selection is handled by chief handicapper Ciaran Kennelly and his team; deputy racing secretary K.L. Cheng arranges transport; and the head of veterinary regulation and international liaison, Keith Watkins, must take responsibility for upholding equine health and veterinary protocol issues. Dr Watkins is the perfect man for the job, being an acknowledged world leader in his field. For Mr Ridley and his select team, the task begins when the horses touch down at Chek Lap Kok. This year, the first to arrive was middle-distance racer Rakti from Britain, 16 days before the engagement. 'We transport the horses from the airport to the quarantine stables at Sha Tin racecourse. Our first task is to get urine and blood samples from the horses and send them to the veterinary laboratory. Someone stays with the horse until that first sample is given,' Mr Ridley says. Those initial swab samples primarily ensure the horse has not contracted any form of travel sickness, is not carrying an infection, and confirms the horse's system will be free of any prohibited substances by the time it races. The horses are allocated barns based on their country of origin. For an international meeting, the participating countries will include the United States, England, Ireland, France, Italy, Germany, Macau, Japan and Australia. In 2002, Hong Kong even hosted a horse from the tiny racing jurisdiction of Denmark, and last year had National Currency from South Africa. 'Horses from different regions have different health status. In previous years, we have been forced to ensure they train at different times but now the protocol is a bit easier - our obligation is to keep them a reasonable distance apart until they meet on race day. Our interpretation of reasonable distance is a minimum of 20 metres apart at any given time,' Mr Ridley says. No two trainers prepare a horse the same way. There are two main tracks available to the international contenders, including the superb Sha Tin grass track - known in racing terms as the course proper - the strip they will be racing on for millions of dollars on Sunday. There is also the all-weather dirt track, which is re-harrowed and presented as a fresh strip for the internationals each morning. Famous trainers did not become great by simply doing the predictable. Most trainers do 90 to 95 per cent of things the same way, but their genius lies in the fine distinctions ... those 11th-hour calls where a horseman's intuition takes over from routine. Mr Ridley recalls the case of Australian trainer Bart Cummings, a renowned master of the big occasion, as his record 11 Melbourne Cup trophies well illustrate. 'Bart asked us if we could construct some hurdles down the riverside gallop so he could school one of his horses over jumps. It was something he liked to do to help a horse concentrate and wake him up before a big race. 'It was a very unusual request because there are no hurdle races and therefore no brush hurdles in Hong Kong. But we set up four rows of straw bails, across the riverside gallop, and Bart was able to school the horse over jumps ... just as he wanted,' Mr Ridley says. The horse was Catalan Opening, the New Zealand-bred gelding that sailed down the centre of the Sha Tin straight the following Sunday in 1997 to win the Hong Kong Bowl (1,400m) under the guidance of Darren Beadman. One of the more common requests is to help horses that are lonely and fretting in their enforced isolation during quarantine. And for that, Mr Ridley's answer is a full-length mirror, secured to the wall in the horse's stall. 'It was a trick I learned almost 20 years ago, when the New Zealand champion McGinty travelled to Tokyo for the Japan Cup. The horse sees his image in the mirror and feels much more contented. He thinks he has some company and the feelings of loneliness seem to disappear,' Mr Ridley says. The horses are the easy part of the international racing equation. Keeping the owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms, farriers, veterinary surgeons and miscellaneous helpers happy is where the real skill lies. 'We do our best to look after everyone, from their transport to and from the hotels, details of the accommodation - all the little items that may seem insignificant but are important to a particular individual. The whole team has been instructed: if you can't do it, quickly find someone who can,' he says. The Jockey Club's capacity to handle the high-quality fleet of international visitors has been enhanced this year with the arrival of Mark Player, formerly of Racing Victoria, who kicked off his Asian tour of duty on November 15. 'To me, the public relations side of international week is the most critical part of our work,' Mr Ridley says. 'We want the people who come here to go back to their homelands saying 'Hong Kong is a special place ... I've enjoyed it ... it's so professional'.'