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December 15, 2014
words by STEPHEN HOWELL IN HONG KONG
photography by BRUNO CANNATELLI
Alphabetically, my key words on what the Hong Kong Jockey Club calls the 'greatest show on turf', the Longines Hong Kong International Races and their lead-in events -
ADMINISTRATION: Hong Kong has a huge, huge advantage in that the Hong Kong Jockey Club has a monopoly on what, really, is the only first-class sport in town, and there is an element of self back-slapping. BUT there's no doubt that CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges runs an organisation that, each December, shows the rest of the racing world how it's done. No resting on laurels here.
CEREMONY: this can be overdone, especially the ubiquitous champagne toasts and after-dark setting off of fireworks, but there's no doubting the fizz and the bang add to the brand through 'photo opps'. (See previous Hong Kong posts.)
CHAMPION: I remember being so taken with Good Ba Ba's three straight International Mile wins (2007-09) and, especially, his Champions Mile win at Hong Kong's other annual racing carnival in April 2008 when jockey Olivier Douleuze treated the opposition with contempt before letting his mount loose late in the straight, but this December came an even better race performance - Able Friend's untouched rear-to-front romp under Joao Moreira that had trainer John Moore referring to the five-year-old gelding as one of the better milers on the planet.
By the way, Able Friend, by Shamardal, was bred by Stuart Ramsay of Turangga Stud at Scone, New South Wales.
ELEGANCE: just love the title that sponsor Longines gives to its Hong Kong International Races spruikers, the immaculately-dressed 'beautiful people' who promote its brand - ambassadors of elegance.
FEAST: the breakfast smorgasbord the Hong Kong Jockey Club puts on in the Sha Tin grandstand on trackwork mornings, and the opportunity it provides to catch up with or get to know and interview key players before or after their horses go through their prepatory paces.
HATS: not 'hats in the air' or other racing cliches, rather Alan 'Hats' Aitken, the former Sydney racing journo and the stand-out performer of a small cast at the South China Morning Post, which gives racing such a strong coverage. 'Hats' is never boring, often irreverent, always informative and, importantly tells it as he sees it - not the party line for him, and those in the game in Hong Kong and elsewhere respect him for it.
INTIMATE: racetracks can be vast, even lonely places; not Happy Valley on Hong Kong Island. With a circumference more suited to dog racing and nestled, almost buried, amid high rises - including its own grandstands - the venue provides great entertainment, even if most runners wouldn't be out of place at the picnics.
MAGIC: this, of course, is the adjective applied to Brazilian Joao Moreira and what he brings to the track as a smiling, enthusiastic champion jockey. He won the big two of the four Group 1s this year (after missing last year because of suspension) on Able Friend and Designs On Rome, also trained by Moore.
PRECISION: everything seems to run so smoothly, although there's no doubt the duck analogy holds water - you know, the bird is floating along nicely but under water the legs are paddling like mad. And the HKJC has a cast of thousands to do the paddling.
THEATRE: this is an overused word, but the covered mounting yard attached to the back of the grandstand at Sha Tin is just the place for great theatre of the horse, for the opening act of each race and for barrier draws, opening ceremonies, etc.
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