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HOW RACING IN MACAU TURNED INTO A TASTELESS EGG TART.



There was something ironic tinged with sadness to see one of Macau’s favourite sons in champion trainer and jockey Tony Cruz bathing in the spotlight and joy of California Spangle winning the Al Quoz Sprint in Meydan on Saturday when only a few hours earlier, the curtain came down for the last time on horse racing in Macau. 



Of course, Tony Cruz was looking after business, and knowing something about him and his family, if in Hong Kong, he would have been at the racetrack on Taipa to say his goodbyes to Macau racing.


If you weren’t there, especially in the nineties, you wouldn’t understand what it was like to attend the races in Macau on Saturday afternoon in Taipa.


Everything started meeting up with friends at Shun Tak Centre on Friday afternoon, taking the jetfoil over, checking into the Hyatt Regency Taipa, showered and was down at the hotel lobby by 6pm to meet up with friends and see what the night ahead had planned.


This happened like clockwork for many years- an adventure down the rabbit hole and into Never Never Land full of Mad Hatters, jokers, thieves and with secret detours taking one down different tunnels.



Those days and nights might have starred horse racing as the main show, but it really was about the characters and the stories behind the winning and losing.


Sometimes, the races were missed altogether, but we met up somewhere along the way so that everything could restart all over again.


Going racing in Macau made The Hangover trilogy look like a dry martini.



It’s a miracle that some of us survived what were often those trips into the unknown, but gawd, they were unforgettable experiences topped off with huge sangria jars of fun. 


It really was the world’s longest and most lethal cocktail party with nothing outta bounds.


At the Macau Jockey Club, we never broke any rules other than bothering with the rule of leaving our mobile phones in the lobby to be picked up on the way out.


We had bookies to call though most were already upstairs waiting for us.


Plus, we were members and customers and no one told us what to do.


The only person who made us get up and stand to attention was Stanley Ho, the extremely powerful casino magnate and horse owner who ruled the Macau Jockey Club. 



He exuded confidence and power and watching Gary Moore bow and scrape around him when a horse trainer was always amusing.



It was Gary being Gary and what’s often overlooked because of his bouts of eccentricity is that he was a bloody good jockey- a world class jockey.  



Frankly, pound for pound, Macau might have had a longer conga line of world class jockeys than Hong Kong- the absolute brilliant and enigmatic Eric Saint Martin, Olivier Doleuze, William Mongil, a then unknown Joao Moreira, Christophe Soumillon, Tony Ives, Brent Thomson, John Didham, below, 




Regulars included Tony, our late friend in advertising, who, having been bitten by the racing bug suddenly became the best amigo of certain jockeys and trainers and hangers on sitting at his table with a bookmaker next to him.


For whatever number of races were held at any given meeting, Tony either bought or were given tips for every race.


With losses mounting and his asthma attacks getting worse, it was no surprise to see him using his inhaler and often betting on every horse in a race.


Even when he won, he lost, but this was his business strategy.


My colleague in the music industry and the person who introduced me to the racing game- Norman- owned some of the best and most winning horses in Macau, but this doesn’t necessarily say he won as much as he said he did.


Me, I don’t really know whether I ended up in front or broke or even and just pretended to have a bet. I was happy having the African Chicken, drinking sangria and watching the circus around me and thinking of the night ahead.


So where did it go wrong?


Awful Fawlty Towers type management that allowed corruption to fester, orchestrated the horse racing becoming staged and the tote being so manipulated that odds were changing throughout a race.


Jockeys apparently losing their licenses for winning and for losing, or if those “at the top” lost, threw “integrity” out of the window and into the lap sap bin.



It’s extremely sad how the Macau Jockey Club fell apart, but when remembers how the rot set in, it’s no surprise that the government stepped in and put an end to it all.



Could there be some kind of reprieve?


Not in our lifetime.


There are, however, quite a few lessons to be learned from all this and how nothing is ever hunky dory, especially when there’s gambling- and everything and everyone that gambling brings to the table.



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