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Trying to understand the enigmatic Hong Kong racing fan.





A journalist friend of mine in the UK who’s planning to write a column on Hong Kong racing and its fans and what makes them TikTok and rock the casbah was asking me for my thoughts.


Frankly, my mind went blank for a while as it’s such a multi layered question for what remains a very one dimensional game.


All I could tell him is that the term “fans” is something that’s mainly has to do with people either talking through their pockets or getting rich quick.


In 2024, the average typical Hong Kong racing fan is the same person who was a racing fan in the city almost fifty years ago.


One thing that hasn’t changed in Hong Kong is that racing, other than being about making a quick buck, holds the eons old belief that every race is “fixed”, how this and that jockey is “not trying” anytime they lose a race, and that there’s some mysterious Mr Big controlling the outcome of every race.


Maybe it’s Mr Roarke? Maybe it’s Tattoo?


Maybe it’s both of them and Mister Bojangles.


Maybe it’s Willy Wonka and his Oompah Loompahs?


As for Hong Kong racing fans, there are those guys, for example, who work at five star hotels and park cars, and others who work in the restaurants and bars. They might be considered “fans” as they are friendly to the big tipping jockeys and trainers, who have an image to upkeep.


Are these people horse racing fans?


Isn’t being a fan of horse racing often associated with knowing how to beat the odds because of the knowledge of weights and barrier draws, ratings, the jockey-trainer combinations, the track work, the pedigree of the horse, the ability to read the tote board etc etc?


How many in Hong Kong would devote their time to any of this- and what would be their age and customer profile?


At least to me, it’s extremely different to being a music fan or a fan of Federer, Ronaldo, Lewis Hamilton etc.


Of course, in Hong Kong, there are also bragging rights involved in horse racing, and it’s always good to be seen in the company of a jockey or a trainer as people believe that you must have an inside track to what is going on in a horse race.


If only if it was this easy.


Then again, how many have used and continue to this gullibility to their advantage and, at least in Hong Kong, present themselves as KOLs- Key Opinion Leaders- and “influencers”?


How many have sold tips, supposedly from some jockey or trainer when they don’t have a clue who these people are?


It’s not unlike sharing those tips sent by trainers to all their owners and where their runners are always third or fourth choices- just in case.


It’s been like this from the days when players in the game- and not only jockeys and trainers- owned Hong Kong racing along with what was then known as the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club.


Of course, back then, there was a huge class distinction in what was colonial Hong Kong and where the racing was for the super elite with the locals making up the numbers and doing their best to tag along for the ride.


My mother worked as the secretary for Gordon MacWhinnie, the head of the leading chartered accounting firm Peat, Marwick and Mitchell and a one-time Chairman of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club.


It was a position that she was extremely proud of- actually working for a white man who was a one time Chairman of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club.


This was when and how Hong Kong operated and managed itself and which kinda worked.


Meanwhile, horse racing in the city has been allowed to continue while marketing The Greed Is Good mantra with a few cosmetic changes plus being seen to be rather good people giving back to the community through its Charities Trust.


When in advertising, and then the music industry, we might have known who some of the jockeys were, but did we bow at the feet of the Hong Kong horse racing fraternity?


Nah.


We were busy playing our own corporate games in six star bars, exclusive escort clubs and upmarket restaurants while being well paid to be in the company of rock stars and their managers while keeping head office happy.


What happened, however, was that a mutual admiration society was formed between the jockeys and a couple of trainers who admired the fact that we knew celebrities.


We were also starting to have the occasional bet, and became friends with fun guys like Tony Cruz, Douglas Whyte and Caspar Fownes.


With some of us eventually having horses racing in Macau and enjoying weekends there in the fabulous Macanese restaurants and karaoke lounges, we got to know jockeys Neil Paine, Johnny Roe and John Didham and the good times rolled on and on and on.


This was until the losing trumped the winning and people like New Zealander Mike Bastion bought himself into the game in Hong Kong before reaching a point in his life where he decided that it might be best to jump off the sixth floor balcony of his apartment at Estoril Court.


Let’s not get into James Neal, the suave former professional British polo player, and his clairvoyant girlfriend named, well, Claire, who parlayed himself into the Hong Kong racing circle and didn’t see what was lying ahead for him in Sydney with the, er, Ice Capades.


During those Covid years when minds changed forever and we had plenty of time on our hands to question the lives we were leading, I was seeing everything in Hong Kong change.


This included the horse racing.


I certainly wasn’t a fan of the “racing bubble” brought into play, and where one saw at least two riders leave the racing game in Hong Kong for the sake of their sanity.


Horse racing suddenly wasn’t a priority to me anymore and, rightly or wrongly, I started to see a flawed Hong Kong Jockey Club with no empathy and self-serving agendas at work.


I was making my own exit plans, and divorcing myself from the racing game and those leading it.


There was a new person in my life who knew far more than I did about racing and wagering, turnover numbers and how the numbers didn’t quite add up.


I was starting to see through the agendas of people I had never questioned before.


When questioning things that bother me, the investigative journalist in me came out and I didn’t like seeing what was patently obvious.


With the new girlfriend critical of the business model of horse racing and how the “house” always won, I was reminded of my ex wife and how no one in horse racing was ever invited to our home, and how much she looked down on the pastime.


It was like a schoolboy crush coming to a crashing end and feeling that I had been duped or had been naive when Kaiser Soze was standing right in front of me.


These days, with Hong Kong seemingly going to be lost for quite some time, and various shifts in mindsets and me no longer associated with the HKJC, I am seeing an industry fuelled by gossip and innuendos and- though loathe to say it- a lower class of people and their simpleton’s way of thinking.


A couple of weeks ago, a horse refused to come out of its stalls. It didn’t want to race. Some of the so-called “racing fans” saw this as jockey Zac Purton’s fault. He was booed by the peanut gallery for the rest of the night.


Zac laughed it off whereas I was wondering why the horse was declared a starter and even given another chance to redeem himself.


Meanwhile, if a jockey doesn’t ride a winner every week, to those racing KOLs, they’ve lost their mojo.


These same “racing fans” are these days baying for the head of Ben Thompson who’s riding in Hong Kong on a short stint and hasn’t had even one ride that would be considered a winning chance. 


The natives are getting restless and think he’s “not good enough”.


They’ve started booing him and screaming in Cantonese some rather nasty things about his mother.


Everyone is entitled to their opinion, myself included, but, again, personally speaking, some of this whining should somehow be reined in by the Club.


If this doesn’t happen soon, the only people following Hong Kong racing will be those “racing uncles” wanting to see Tony Cruz riding Co-Tack, and tour groups from China brought to Happy Valley and Shatin to see the Happy Wednesday freak show of entertainment Kumbaya and what horse racing is about.


For how much longer will this pitiful circus go on?


No one likes hanging out with and spending money on lap sap.


Here’s someone who stopped being a “Hong Kong racing fan” because I didn’t see any upside other than buying myself into a very expensive members only club for those who wish to “network”.


Who with though?


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