Happy Wednesday at Happy Valley is everything British racing is not
PICTURE: Hugh Routledge
By Stuart Riley in Hong Kong 12:02PM 8 DEC 2016
WEDNESDAY evenings are known as Happy Wednesdays in this part of the world and with good reason – it is impossible not to leave Happy Valley grinning from ear to ear.
It is everything British racing is not. It is accessable, in the heart of the city and a very short walk from the heaving Wan Chai area. It cost HK$ 10 to get in. That’s one of your pounds and two of your pennies. It’s heaving, there were 29,601 for the International Jockeys’ Challenge card – the highest for the meeting since 1999.
Below-average horses – four of the nine races were for horses rated 60 to 40 – raced for bucketloads of cash. The 40 to 15 1,650m handicap was worth HK$ 630,000 (£64,026.72). And was fun. So much fun.
The band came on between races to play singalong covers not that well, fireworks went off for the start of the IJC while horses paraded metres away, it took less than 30 seconds to acquire a receipt for a beer and then redeem said receipt in an exchange that mirrors that of a drug buy in The Wire – food queues were slightly longer.
Despite all of the attractions the locals’ noses could not be tempted out of the formbook and consequently everyone punted like lunatics, with a turnover of HK$ 1.238 billion (£126,712,047.09) ensuring a riotous atmosphere and a cacophony of noise every time a race was run. You simply must experience it for yourself.
Growl gets unlucky
Sprint hope Growl has this season come on almost as much as the 5,899 miles he has travelled from Richard Fahey’s base in North Yorkshire to Sha Tin racecourse in Hong Kong, which would make his draw in stall 12 a sizeable kick in the dangly bits – if he had any.
“There’s no point moaning but it’s not ideal,” was Fahey’s matter of fact reaction to the draw, before he dreamed up an entire parallel universe in which it could turn out to be a positive. “We’d have been dropping in anyway so we’ll just have to hope they all try and kill each other for the fence and we can try and pick up the pieces. We do have the US horse alongside us, so hopefully he can take us into the race.”
To say Growl worked on Thursday would be overegging things heavily. Horses have been known to do more on parade. “We didn’t do too much there,” laughed Fahey afterwards. “He just had a light canter which was grand. We just need to keep him eating and drinking, that’s what’s important.
“He’s got to step up on Sunday but he’s come a long way this year. The draw looks like it could be crucial. We wouldn’t have come unless we thought we could pick something up but a lifetime best could see him finish third or fourth and we’d settle for that just now.”
Future champion jockey
When Campbell Rawiller speaks, they listen. Several top jockeys – his father, Group 1 legend Nash, and former champion Australian apprentice-turned-Group 1-jockey Sam Clipperton among them – believe not many have a firmer understanding of the Hong Kong formbook than the 15-year-old who gave himself the morning off school to watch the horses work on Thursday.
He dreams of one day riding in races. Clipperton, who touchingly says Rawiller has become his best friend since he moved here this year, has seen him ride and supportively suggests he’s a future champion jockey in waiting. You read it here first!
So given all the many international Group 1 winners on show on Sunday, and the young Rawiller’s impeccable knowledge of the formbook, it might interest you to know the horse he is most looking forward to seeing runs on the undercard – in the 1,600m Eishin Preston Handicap (race ten – 5.50pm local time).
The horse in question is local sensation Pakistan Star and you can read an interview with his rider Matthew Chadwick on the pressures surrounding the ride in Friday’s Racing Post.