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Macau Racing: The Hangover before The Hangover.

It wasn’t really about the horse racing that attracted us to Macau. It was a much needed release valve for those of us in Hong Kong knee deep in our various career paths that took us on very different magical mystery tours through Coloane and Taipa, where we met gypsies, tramps and thieves- but with everything somehow always being fun. 

And now, the Macau Jockey Club that’s been on its last legs for the past few years, has announced its closure as of April 1, and which means that fat lady has sung and it’s the end of the horse racing which was our pink ticket for making those one-time weekend pilgrimages to the former Portuguese enclave. 

The MJC and the racing was one surreal casserole of things that, looking back, didn’t seem to add up, but did- the ladies of the night who seemed to own the shopping arcade of the Hotel Lisboa and wandered through it looking for the highest bidder. 

Nearby was the crap shoot called Darling with its bingo card and girls for sale, whereas everywhere else was the fabulous Macanese cuisine that could be had and washed down with pitchers of sangria.

The imperfect perfect ending to the night was always at the Mandarin Hotel Lobby Bar where there was always someone to meet. 

It was The Hangover long before The Hangover.

Macau back then was a seemingly endless buffet of a walk and gallop on the wild side that was part Caligula and part “Let It Ride”. 

Though some excellent riders rode there over the years- Eric Saint Martin, Joao Moreira, Gary Moore, John Didham, below, Kieran Fallon, Christophe Soumillon, Tony Ives, Brent Thomson, Olivier Doleuze, William Mongil and others- the racing took second billing.

The racing club somehow survived despite gross mismanagement and rampant corruption, where breaking the rules contributed to welcoming in the unholy mess that it was.

It might have tried to be upmarket and kinda budget haute couture foo foo like the HKJC is trying to do, but it was almost like Michelangelo trying to paint the Sistine Chapel with some Crayola and his toes.

For example, one had to check their mobile phones in before entering the elevators that took us up to the Clubhouse, but one never did this as there were illegal bookies to call and either place bets with them or have them help plan the night ahead with reservations to the usual favourite restaurant and whatever was planned for later.

Though all this was accepted as “normal transmission” during the early years of people like Edmond Wong and Kenneth Liang in management and whoever was really calling the shots, the fixing of races from the third floor became silly. 

Odds were still changing dramatically and drastically when the races had almost been run and jockeys’ licenses taken away if they accidentally won a race and some Mr Big associated with the Club lost money. 

Still, those times and the cast of characters and all the plots and subplots and the well-known game of changing partners within the racing community somehow added personality (and poisonality) to the monstrously odd proceedings going on.

I was a virgin to horse racing and depended on my good friend and colleague in the music industry- Norman- to explain how this game was played. 

After all, he owned horses around the world, dealt with international Bloodstock agents and knew trainers, jockeys, riding boys and bookies and knew betting strategies.

It didn’t take long for me to realise that a good suit, looking rich and being in the sexy music industry took you far in a game where there was so many smoke and mirrors that the air was a constant purple haze of bollocks. But it was ok. It was tolerable.

Norman followed a quantity versus quality business strategy with many of his horses actually unable to win many races, but perception was everything. 

It opened up many doors for us even at Kittens in Australia.

We had great times in Macau despite the best laid plans often going awry- horses not meant to win winning and those given no hope popping up like magic mushrooms.

We watched at least one very well known person in the advertising industry in Hong Kong being completely sucked and suckered into the vortex of betting and paying off so many for what he believed were tips. 

He had his own table on one floor of the MJC where his enablers pumped him with so much “insider information” that he sometimes bet on every horse in a race- and still lost. 

To ease the pain, he would get drunk and pass out.

Norman finally found himself some of the best horses in Macau- Rock ‘N Roll which should have won the first Macau Derby- but didn’t as the galloper was apparently hobbled- Fun Fun Fun, Rock’N Roll Kid and Look For A Star. 

I was persuaded to buy a seven year old galloper named Welcome. 

The smallest horse in Macau, Welcome, a HK$75k purchase, won around eleven races. The longer the race and the heavier the track, the little engine who could grew another leg and just kept going and going and simply outstayed his competitors. 

He was retired to, I was told, a riding school in China, but who knows? 

I was also told that he had evolved into a champion jumper. 

I believed it all, because, well, why not? I didn’t know any better.

Macau had its fair share of controversies- the infamous Macau canidrome that that was forced to close down after it was discovered how badly the greyhounds were treated, a couple of deaths and killings, and a front page story with photos of horses being secretly put down when owners couldn’t afford to keep them. 

It was sickening and Macau horse racing was starting to fall apart. Going over for a long weekend lost its sense of good times and adventure.

I returned to Macau after almost a five year break when Kristine, my Danish girlfriend at the time booked us into a remote guest house in Taipa for my birthday.

I insisted that we drop by the MJC and saw what looked like the trading floor of a stock exchange with everyone running around betting on the racing in Macau, Singapore and Malaysia plus Western Australia.

Kristine started to hyperventilate and feel rather uneasy at what was going on and we made a quick exit to the jetfoil and the safety of our place on High Street.

I’ve been back to Macau a few times since, but like Hong Kong, my friends and I had seen the very best that Macau had to give.

Though what’s there now might have the makings of a city with enormous potential, one wonders if it might have lost its soul- or could perhaps create a new one for itself, but without the horse racing and those fabulously reckless and deranged nights in the suites of the Hyatt Regency Taipa.

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