Bill Wong Man-piu is a 22-year-old Hong Kong Baptist University graduate. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum is the Prime Minister of Dubai and the most powerful figure in the global horseracing industry. Normally, you would never expect their paths to cross, but this is a tale where dogged persistence helped redefine one young man's reality. Five years ago, in one of his famous visionary moments, Sheikh Mohammed decided to create the Darley Flying Start, a scholarship in which 12 hand-picked, budding racing industry professionals get two years of intense onsite management training that takes them around the world, with the sheikh picking up the tab. Wong, in 2003 as a 17-year-old, read about Darley Flying Start, applied and was rejected. But five years down the track, with an honours degree in Social Science to back him up, Wong became the first Hong Kong racing person to be awarded a spot in the prestigious programme. When Wong hit the sheikh's picturesque Kildangan Stud in Ireland in the middle of last month, he buddied up with Brian McGrath, a London lad who also has a strong Hong Kong connection. Brian's father is Jim McGrath, the former South China Morning Post racing editor and English language racecaller before being lured to England. And Brian's mother Anita Lee Kwong-on is a Hong Kong Chinese from North Point who met Jim when he was working in the territory in the late 1970s and early '80s. The fact that Wong has been able to attract the attention of manager Clodagh Kavanagh and the Flying Start directors is due solely to his own determination, with very little help from his native city, because of its sadly outdated and misguided policies which locked him out of racecourses until he turned 18. And for someone whose interest in racing was triggered as a seven-year-old, the day when he finally walked onto a racecourse for live race-day action took an eternity to arrive. 'I can't honestly tell you the reason I started following racing, but that's how young I was,' Wong said this week. 'Like most parents in Hong Kong, my parents figured horse racing and gambling were the same thing and they tried to discourage me, worried that I might get hooked. 'But when something is forbidden, you will only get more determined. At least it was in my case. I felt a bit weird that when my primary school mates were supporting their favourite soccer team, such as Manchester United or Arsenal, I was cheering for my favourite horses, trained by Ivan Allan. 'The only common thing is that all of us had experienced moments of sheer joy and gross disappointment. Racing has a great way of teaching you how to cope with loss, you learn to get over losses very fast because focusing on them will only hold you back.' Locked out of the racecourse, the sole window of relief for Wong in his early teens was the Happy Valley Saturday morning barrier trials. Six or seven times a year, he could legally go to Happy Valley and watch horses in these trials, like racing dress rehearsals. 'I am not from a racing family,' Wong said. ' The relationship between horse racing and my family was limited to my dad having an occasional bet, that's all. So I did not have much experience with horses in my childhood and I can see that is a disadvantage compared with some of my new classmates, like Brian, who have seen and done so much more.' At one of these barrier trial sessions he was befriended by journalist and commentator Felix Cheung, who took up a mentoring role for the keen but racing-starved student. 'Felix has been enormously kind, the amount of time he has spent teaching me about the industry,' Wong said. 'I also started buying books on racing, though I don't think I'll ever get a collection like another of my friends, Tim Cox - he has 11,000-plus books on racing!' Thanks to modern technology, Wong has been able to follow foreign racing closely. 'I am particular fond of European racing and always wanted to visit Newmarket, the home of racing,' he said. 'Without any serious hope or expectation, as I had no experiences of working with horses, I sent an e-mail to a racing stable to see if I could stay at the stables of a British trainer during my summer vacation. To my surprise, the answer was 'yes' from [trainer] James Fanshawe.' Lacking in experience, being perhaps a bit shy and definitely overawed, Wong admits: 'I probably did not show much'. 'They declined my request for a second visit initially, but I persevered, and they kindly gave me a second chance. I learned a lot and earned a nice reference letter. I must have worked a lot harder the second summer, too, as I stripped off 10kg of fat.' Being knocked back for the Flying Star programme five years ago was one of Wong's best life lessons. 'As a 17 year old, without any related experiences, the result was predictable,' he reflects. 'But after they knocked me back, I tried to improve myself, I got my Bachelor's degree and luckily the result ended up different for me this year... here I am in Ireland at Kildangan Stud.' Since turning 18 and being able to go racing, Wong has had a close-up experience with a seriously good horse. He became friendly with Alan Leung Wai-lam, who owns a Class Five performer called Mr Floodlight. But Leung's brother Darin Leung Wai-yuen owned the top-class galloper All's Well, trained by Danny Shum Chap-shing. 'I am a big fan of Danny Shum,' Wong said. 'Because he was the trainer of All's Well, I was fortunate to meet him through Darin and he was good enough to share some of his experiences and knowledge with me. 'Seeing All's Well have such a fruitful three-year-old season was exciting and there were plenty of dreams in the summer. Sadly, although he was placed in the Classic Mile, he became unsound.' Not many racing fans can be called a 'veteran' at 22, but Wong's early favourites are quite a few years back now. 'Ivan Allan was my hero when I was young. It was the era of Mr Vitality, who was the first winner of the sprinters' triple crown series in Hong Kong. Ivan also trained Oriental Express, Indigenous and Fairy King Prawn - they all brought me some very happy days as a racing fan, even though I could only experience them through television.' Wong also speaks positively about his experience meeting and learning from leading local agent David Price, buyer of the famous Silent Witness and who has - perhaps unintentionally - given the youngster the dream of becoming 'a respected bloodstock agent at home in Hong Kong'. But first, there are two years of hard work ahead. Wong has already been inspired by the words of Sheikh Mohammed: 'To dream of the future is one of the most beautiful things in life'. 'Getting on the Flying Start programme is already a dream come true,' Wong says. 'But I understand now that it's actually just the dream start to a much bigger dream.'