Wednesday, November 14, 2007

HK's Horse Of The Year (Not)

The Sopranos In HK Racing

Horse racing in HK is certainly one of the best managed. High payout ratios, great liquid pools, the best trainers and jockeys all converged to HK as the race prizemoney is very decent. Fixed races are probably among the lowest in the world. While there is still some hanky-panky (going-not going), HK horse racing easily ranks as the top in my books.

The committee awarded Horse of The Year award a few months back to Vengeance of Rain, trained by D Ferraris. They handed the coveted award to Vengeance Of Rain in honour of his triumph in the world's equal-richest turf race, the Dubai Sheema Classic, and conveniently forgot Viva Pataca had thrashed him mercilessly twice at home afterwards in the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup, then again in Champions & Chater Cup.

The judges - three from the Jockey Club and three journalists from leading Chinese-language newspapers - clearly and simply got it wrong. The voters mostly cited the Dubai win as the deciding factor. If that was the case, then in 2004, the Horse of The Year award should have gone to Cape of Good Hope who won not one but two international Group 1 races - that year the award justly went to Silent Witness, who thrashed Cape of Good Hope a couple of times at home in HK, and one of the races was the Group 1 HK Sprint. So, following that logic, Viva Pataca should have won the award back in July 2007, hands down!!!

Here's where The Sopranos get into the picture. While racing in HK is always a showcase for those rich enough to be horse owners - there is still "good rich" and "not so clean rich". Viva Pataca is owned by Stanley Ho, the Macau casino king of yesteryears. Sometimes money can only buy you so many things in life, it can never buy real respect. Safe to say that Stanley Ho's riches may be regarded quietly by many as not-as-worthy as the fortunes of other tycoons. Secondly, he is from Macau, not HK. Though discrimination of any kind is almost non-existent between the two ex-colonies - Macau is still not HK. Macau has been known to be notorious feeding ground for gangsterism - purveyors of prostitution, illegal loan sharking and toll-gating businesses. Same old, same old, you cannot survive or prosper in Macau for such an extended period without being linked with the gangs in Macau.
It did not help matters that the trainer was John Moore, once a top jockey in HK and Macau who made the switch to horse training successfully. Well, John Moore's reputation is not exactly "clean". Back in the 70s, HK and Macau racing were as dirty as in Malaysia and Singapore. Horses were pulled frequent and race fixing was rampant. Anybody in racing then, whether a trainer or a jockey during that period has to be a bit "dirty" to survive. John Moore naturally did not come out of that period unscathed. Even when John Moore won the trainer's championship, the stigma never really left him. Hence till today, John Moore is still being regarded as a good trainer who bets. Someone who will bring home the favourites but makes hay with his longshots which escapes everybody's attention.
1 + 1 = 0. Hence you put the two together, plus when given a real alternative in Vengeance of Rain, it is natural for the judges to vote accordingly. But seriously, reputations aside, Viva Pataca should have been the winner regardless who owns it. John Moore for his history, should be judged by each horse he trains - he got Viva Pataca to win the really important races, and that's all that's important in this award. The horse is innocent. The HKJC and judges will have more tart on their faces when Viva Pataca wins the Group 1 Invitational race next month in HK.

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