They’re not tipsters and definitely can’t be termed “punters", but they’re very possibly the purest variety of the Hong Kong racing fan- local photographers like Wallace Wan and Donald Lee, below, hobbyists who can be termed racing photojournalists with no illusions about being entrepreneurs or game changers.
Not for them either is it about being seen and bathing in whatever limelight that might be shining these days on course at Shatin and Happy Valley.
For these racing fans who happen to take photographs of their favourite pastime, it’s about their cameras capturing every moment as long as horse racing continues.
On race days, it’s about taking as many photos as possible on every race day of the jockeys, the trainers, the presentations ceremonies, everyone who’s lucky enough to make it to the winner’s enclosure and anything and anyone else visually interesting that pop into their frames.
But why do they do all this- and pretty much for free other than perhaps having their work catching the eyes of other fans of Hong Kong racing?
It’s a hobby in a city, where rather tellingly, apart from shopping, dining out, playing mahjong, and maybe going on hikes, there really isn’t that much to do except perhaps take up photography.
It’s something that these semi amateur photographers and full-time horse racing fans genuinely enjoy being involved in and where there’s a pride of ownership in their work.
Are they ambitious? Not really. Any “ambition” comes from trying to improve the creativity of their work and not over extend themselves.
This work appears on their Facebook and Instagram pages a few hours after the last race has been run.
If someone wishes to buy some of their work, that’s a bonus.
I know Donald Lee and Wallace Wan, below, best, and with whom I can always catch up on what the local racing media is saying and might be thinking about Hong Kong’s favourite pastime.
Through what i hear, I get to understand this city a little bit more, especially where we were and maybe why we are where we’re at today.
Speaking to Wallace, who’s now around sixty, and has been taking photos of horse racing for over ten years, I am constantly reminded of how the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Constant trips taken down memory lane is often fuelled by a longing for the good old days and reminiscing about colonial Hong Kong and when horse racing in the city was still trying to find its feet.
This reminiscing almost always leads to racing rumours and often reading into something that’s not even there, which somehow morphs into a convoluted conspiracy theory.
These theories guide those elders in the Public stands at the racecourses in Shatin and Happy Valley and sitting as always in their favourite spots where there’s ongoing community type discussions about how, for instance, if a jockey or trainer or their wives are having a birthday, then, they MUST have a winner or three.
Of course very rarely does anything go according to script and a few dollars might be lost by following birthdays, but during the course of the day, there are enough races with enough winners and losers for post mortems to generate a new round of stories.
It’s interesting stuff and one of the few true consistencies in the makeup of Hong Kong horse racing- and perhaps even Hong Kong itself.
It’s no wonder the city has so many stories intertwined with horse racing, and perhaps why there are those race horse owners who don’t understand that their horses might actually lose.
We’re talking here about racing fans, many, who in their formative years, learned much about their favourite pastime by following the careers of Tony Cruz and Gary Moore when they were young gun jockeys, a champion horse like Co-Tack and a time when the Moores were racing royalty.
Today they’re racing “uncles” who’ve also learned about other aspects of racing from watching the weekly performances of the very popular and highly animated television personality and actor “Uncle” Bill Tung-biu.
A knowledgeable racing man, though some think of him as a frustrated and failed horse trainer, the late Tung-biu had a television programme the night before and after the races.
It was the latter programme that was the most popular where the host made his thoughts known to the audience and his two co-hosts whose roles were to listen and agree to what he had to say.
There were many times when “Uncle” Bill asked that the film of a particular race be rewound. He would then jump up from behind his desk and start pointing angrily at the television screen about how a rider- always an Australian- was “not trying”.
It was brilliant television.
With a long-running feud with leading Australian rider Peter Miers aka “The Organiser”, below, it was Bill Tung who first mentioned “team riding” and the existence of an “Australian gang”.
Old habits die hard and these stories are regularly regurgitated for these times and with a different cast.
It’s harmless stuff and very much part of the unique and quirky product personality of Hong Kong racing.
Add to this the enthusiasm and dedication of Wallace, Donald, Vieri and the other photographers and artists like Mr Hok Fung Li, below, and the Hong Kong Jockey Club is very lucky to have its own street marketing team- for free.
Do they deserve more recognition for what they contribute to Hong Kong racing in their own ways?
Of course, they do.
They’re very much part of the racing media and say much about the image of horse racing in Hong Kong, especially about life in the city in these post pandemic days.
Thanks, everyone for the passion!