In 1999 the US Postal Service honoured legendary champion racehorse Secretariat by producing a postage stamp of him. If nothing else it sums up how bizarre life is for a racehorse. If it wins a lot of races, it could grace the front of a stamp. If it loses a lot, it could end up on the back of a stamp. In a city where money talks and instant success is a prerequisite in all businesses, being on the front of a stamp is all that matters in Hong Kong's horse racing industry. It's the biggest gig in town and one where regular failure will only end in tears - both on and off the track. With so much at stake, bloodstock agents such as Dan O'Donnell have to be on the ball, but after 20 years of wheeling and dealing in the city, the shrewd Irishman has proved to be a man who knows what it takes to spot a potential winner. The obvious question for those of us not in the know is: how does he do it? O'Donnell is one of the most respected judges of horse flesh around and brings horses to the city in one of two ways. The first is through private purchases, or PPs as they are called in the trade, bought mainly from Britain and Ireland. He is usually involved in the sale of five or six of these to Hong Kong a year. 'I mainly specialise in middle- distance horses and I generally deal with trainers in the UK and Ireland who run smaller operations and are more selective about how much they run their horses,' O'Donnell said. 'I work with a trainer who is likely to have a horse who hasn't been over-raced. One that'll have plenty of juice left in the orange by the time it gets to Hong Kong. 'The horse I look for is one that, based on my experience, is not fully developed and will get better as he gets older.' O'Donnell also confirmed his decisions were not only based on pedigree, because pedigree alone does not guarantee a horse can deal with the stresses of training in Hong Kong. They do not have to be stunning physical specimens, because durability is essential to racing here and a well-proportioned horse rather than one with a classically great physique is more likely to be able to go the distance. 'If I like a horse from a physical point of view and believe it'll be physically suited to racing in Hong Kong, only then do I look at the pedigree. The pedigree will tell you how much you will have to pay for the animal, so it's a balancing act,' O'Donnell said. 'To put it simply, I try to buy a horse that looks like a Lexus car. Well made, efficiently engineered and hope that he's got a Ferrari engine.' Temperament is also very important. The Hong Kong environment is unlike any other and a nervous horse will probably not do well here, so having a laid-back demeanour is high on O'Donnell's list of must-haves too. His most successful private purchase was when he organised the sale of Sanford Mill from Britain. It took three months of negotiations but the horse proved to be a great success. Under the new name of Helene Mascot, he won the 2008 Hong Kong Derby in record time, and would have gone on to even greater things if injury had not scuppered his career. The second way O'Donnell works his magic is by buying groups of yearlings and selling them to Hong Kong owners. Rather than pay a lot of money for one yearling, the idea is to spread the risk like you would with a stock or share. A perfect example of this was when O'Donnell bought five yearlings at the Karaka sales in New Zealand for Hong Kong owner Simon Kwok. As it turned out the cheapest of these, Beauty Flash, has won five out of six races and is one of the favourites for this year's Hong Kong Derby. 'Beauty Flash was bought for HK$350,000 and was the cheapest horse of the bunch but has proved to be the best one of all,' he said. 'To buy this way really is a numbers game and you're not putting all your eggs in one basket, which is the most important thing. 'But there's always going to be a certain risk involved. That's why I always say to my owners when they have a winner to enjoy it. It can be a tough game, so when you get a winner, celebrate by running down the track naked if you want to, just savour the moment.'