Gary Ng Ting-keung’s career not only comes to a close at Sunday’s Season Finale at Sha Tin but also his family’s long and illustrious involvement in Hong Kong racing.
Ng is the nephew of three-time champion trainer Jerry Ng Chi-lam, who prepared 1987 Hong Kong Derby winner Tea For Two II and was also the first trainer of champion stayer and three-time horse of the year Silver Lining.
As such Ng’s earliest childhood recollections include the sound of horses’ hooves as they clicked along down Shan Kwong Road to trackwork at Happy Valley.
“My uncle was one of the last trainers to move from Happy Valley to Sha Tin in 1988,” recalled Ng, who also counts “TP” Wong Tang-ping, trainer of the great Co-Tack, among his relatives.
“My father was head lad for his brother Jerry and they had another brother who trained as well. So I was always around the stables. They are good memories.”
Ng is the second-longest serving trainer at Sha Tin, behind John Moore, but after 27 seasons and 489 winners, Ng announced his retirement this week.
The 64-year-old started his career on the same day as Neville Begg and Patrick Biancone in 1990, and has experienced first hand the massive changes in Hong Kong racing since.
“It’s far more professional, but there is more pressure too,” Ng said. “There used to be 40-something meetings in a year, so life was a lot easier.
“There were more breaks and we had a lot of time for ourselves, but now it is Sunday, Wednesday and Sunday again – but it’s not all bad, the prizemoney has gone up and overseas they race everyday.”
Most remember sprinter Sweet Sanette as Ng’s best horse but the trainer himself ranks two ahead of the speedy mare.
The first was Billion Win, who whom he won a Chief Executive’s Cup, a Group Three Sha Tin trophy and a TVB Cup with in the 2000-01 season.
Yet the horse Ng ranks as “undoubtedly” his best was the brilliant but flawed sprinter Kingston Treasure, who won five of his six races but eventually incurred a ban for unruly pre-race behaviour.
Thirteen-time champion jockey Douglas Whyte was aboard Kingston Treasure on the final two occasions the sprinter went to the races and was a late scratching.
“That horse could have been anything,” Whyte said, recalling far fonder memories of the hot-headed horse’s more mild-mannered handler.
“Gary has been a great supporter of mine from day one, literally. I had rides for him on my first day here and that association has continued right through to this season. He has been a lovely man to work with.”
Ng still had one more season left before he faced compulsory retirement but would have had to face a show cause hearing to do so.
“I have to look at the reality of the situation, with the amount of horses I have. At some point you need to stop,” he said.
“An important factor is the earning capacity of my staff, if my stable isn’t winning then they aren’t getting the extra wages from prizemoney.
“They’ve been loyal to me and if I felt I had the horses to go on I would have fought for another season. But in the end, I can make a living, but I want what is best for them as well.”
Still an avid cyclist, Ng plans to ‘see more of the world’ in retirement.
“There’s a few things I wanted to do at a young age that I couldn’t do because I was working,” he said. “Time goes fast so I want to see the world while I can still move around well. I will use my time to do some outdoor things.”