As with any business, a vital part to the success of the horse racing industry is commitment.
It’s another of those intangible things that money cannot buy.
Of course, before buying into the honesty that this commitment comes with, it means taking many “tests” before intuitively knowing that it’s a “lock”.
In one of the most difficult and different and bilingual and trilingual racing jurisdictions in the world, Hong Kong has attracted many overseas riders and raiders on smash and grab expeditions, where the city has seen its fair share of users and abusers and stayers and sprinters.
There have always been those chasing after the dollar signs, and after getting as much as possible out of the city and realising that the crosstown traffic lights were about to change to red, hurriedly left. Zero commitment.
There are then those who saw Hong Kong as their new home, put down roots and maybe gave something back to the city that had taken them in.
This is the emotional attachment, I keep mentioning, and so important to everything we do in life.
Though he might not have looked like it when receiving a license to ride in Hong Kong this racing season, many local racing fans, especially those grassroots “racing uncles”, weren’t sure of Silvestre de Sousa’s commitment to the city.
After all, the season before, and, apparently after confirming that he would be riding in Hong Kong, the Brazilian-born former champion jockey of Britain, made a U-turn and, one guesses, either followed the money trail to racing in the Middle East, or could not see himself surviving in the city’s infamous “racing bubble”.
This new tour of duty, however is looking different.
SDS, as he’s popularly known, is showing that all-important commitment to Hong Kong and Hong Kong racing. You can’t have one without the other.
This can be seen in everything he’s doing on-course, and having the support of his family by his side shows the level of his commitment.
On Wednesday night at Happy Valley- and this is a personal observation- most of the racing and all of the entertainment provided looked to be suffering from pandemic fatigue. It was boring.
This is why Silvestre de Sousa riding four winners on the nine race card helped shake off some of the mothballs and Old Spice and add a soupçon of ooomph to the evening.
At a time when like everywhere else the city is trying to find its sea legs again, Hong Kong racing is looking and sounding a tad Mariah Carey scary and Disco dated.
This feeling of deja-vu, especially when ‘live’ streaming the races, often has one switching off, astral travelling with the fairies and not returning.
After all, other than the thrill of winning, to some in Hong Kong, horse racing at Happy Valley is the first stop in a night out.
To others, it’s about having a cast of characters different and looking rich enough to keep audiences interested in the twists and turns of a game that, at least in the city, is often fuelled by whatever the rumour mill spits out.
No one is spared- the jockeys, the trainers, the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the owners, friends of the owners, the wives, the mistresses, and the obligatory conspiracy theories behind the results. It adds to the goofiness of it all.
This is Hong Kong racing’s own version of “Crazy Rich Asians” replete with family disputes, dysfunctional families and the huge chasm between the Haves and the Have Nots.
Someone should consider streaming an ongoing short form series built around the above and the many quirks of a more mature customer base stuck to their ways, and their views of the city’s most popular pastime. It’s also the most highly scrutinised which is part of its attraction.
As for the quirks, these are almost always based around feng shui- lucky numbers, lucky colours, lucky horses names, lucky off course betting centres.
For those who don’t trust banks and sleep with their money, there’s the need to FEEL those tickets. They need proof of bets placed always carried with them, especially when it comes to Mark Six lottery tickets.
It’s why old habits continue to live on like some weird religion and tradition even in 2023.
As for Silvestre de Sousa, though not having the magical powers of his countryman Joao Moreira who brought something quite extraordinary to horse racing and which remains exclusive to him, the SDS brand is about consistency and making every effort to give every one of his rides the best possible result.
Owners demand this as do trainers and those who put their hard earned money backing jockeys.
For the holistic Hong Kong racing brand, it, too, needs consistency, and important for the Hong Kong Jockey Club is to show its commitment to everyone in the city. Everyone.
Hong Kong racing is not what it was. Even a blind man can see this. It has lost its edge and mojo to Father Time.
After all, these aren’t the booming Eighties or the excesses of the Greed Is Good Nineties and early 2000s.
All that stuff limps along on places like Instagram which appears to be on its last legs.
This is wherever it is we find ourselves and whatever we do to make it work for our individual needs.
For horse racing in Hong Kong, there has to be something of a solution to this malaise before the rank and file punters, and others who are not amongst the city’s elite, or those drowning in wannabe elitism, vote with their feet and decide to save their money and stay away.
Watching what I saw on television last Wednesday at Happy Valley racecourse, speaking to those who regularly attend the races as it’s something convenient to do, and friends who went to check out what was and wasn’t happening, there wasn’t much of anything special to hold one’s interest for over four hours.
It’s a TikTok world.
Happy has become tired and old and Sappy and Sloppy are with Dopey.
Thankfully, there are things like the SDS mini show.
Whether things like this are enough for the time being, or what more might be needed to retain Hong Kong racing fans- current and how to create the next generation along with waiting to see the return of international tourism to the city- only time will tell.
Until then, as with any other industry around the world, horse racing in Hong Kong is in a holding pattern until someone somewhere comes up with something that turns everything on its head.
Meanwhile, remember to exhale, embrace and inhale the priorities in life, get rid of the clutter, and show the love to those who matter before it’s too late.