A HONG KONG HORSE OPERA

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If one were to ever produce a documentary about horse racing in Hong Kong when the sport was pretty much part of the Wild East or close to the taming of the West, the cast would feature the obvious names.

These are names like Sixties local champion jockey Kenny Kwok who looked like he had eaten one too many pork dumplings and later, Cheng Tai-chee aka “Topcat”, both pictured below, who tried his hand at training- and failed.

“Topcat” also had his hands full with errant son, Paul Cheng who was a jockey- er, and actor, which must have come in handy when he had to front up to the Stewards. Wait: Stewards? Were there actually Stewards in those days? It all seemed so Lucy Lawless and the Village People.

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(Kenneth Kwok / Source: Racing Memories)

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(Cheng Tai Chee / Source: Racing Memories)

Of course, later, there was the colorful Brian Kan, below, and, later still, his perverse misadventures with domestic helpers and village elders.

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(Brian Kan / Source: Racing Memories)

He was the Don Corleone of racing even when “celebrity training” in Macau and with many queuing up to kiss his ring and ass when he would make cameo appearances whenever any of those Fat Choy horses would run. And then power corrupted and greed was not good.

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(Brian Kan / Source: East Week)

Kan, at his prime was the Cups King and, to his credit, was the first trainer to sign a South African jockey to be his stable jockey.

Years later, he also brought in Jimmy Quinn to be his stable jockey and we know how that ended.

No, the South African jockey was Bart Leisher, a brilliant young jockey who, for some reason, is vastly underrated and neglected when looking at the history of Hong Kong racing. Leisher took Hong Kong by storm and was a huge success story until a bad fall set back his career.

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(Bart Leisher (L) / Source: Racing Memories)

And how can anyone forget the great Ivan Allen who took on all comers- and won-and didn’t suffer fools gladly?

What that sycophant and editor of the Lowans racing booklet – and what a story there is about the Lowans and the millions made from its sale- Ken Martinus, below, was doing sniffing around and being his running dog was baffling.

Then again, just as John Hardie, racing editor of The STAR, was George Moore’s bitch and wrote loving odes to the Moores and dissed a new kid on the racing horizon named Tony Cruz, perhaps we just answered our own question.

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(Tony Cruz / Source: Racing Memroies)

Ivan The Terrible to some was also the first person we know to recognize the brilliance of the enigmatic Eric Saint Martin whom we got along with very well. Perhaps it was our mutual love for French Trance Music?

The son of the legendary Yves Saint Martin, Eric was, to many, a strange one who was easily the best jockey to ride in Hong Kong but who had some serious dark and wacky moments- like attending a Stewards enquiry wearing shorts and flip flops and complaining that he had a very good bottle of red waiting for him at home.

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(Eric Saint Martin / Source: Racing Memories)

Now retired and married to a leading ooh la la French model, the last time we saw Eric, he was doing somersaults as he accompanied her at a red carpet event in Cannes. He was and finally is a happy man.

Eric Saint Martin
(Eric Saint Martin)

Before Shatin Racecourse opened, the Big Whopper combo of Aussies of jockey Peter Miers and trainer Bob Burns ruled Hong Kong racing. They were the Big Macs of racing and were one giant serving of twoallbeefpattieslettucecheesepicklesservedonasesameseedbun.

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(Peter Miers / Source: The Standard)

Miers was known as “The Organiser” -some might say, The Hamburglar- and organise he did by watching trackwork and working out his own ” riders scheduled” for which jockeys Leon Fox and Bill Burnett were willing, loyal “runners” in the team and with their arch enemy being local television personality Tung-biu.

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(Tung Biu / Source: Posters IMDB)

“Uncle” Bill’s tirades against Miers- and a suspicion about every Aussie jockey to ride in Hong Kong- on his post-mortem of the day’s racing via his television show was classic TV.

He would bang the table, point at the camera, scream at his co-hosts, sulk and have the show’s producers repeat and repeat what he considered to be the jockey’s dubious rides- in slow motion- while he would point to where something dodgy might have occurred and then bang the table again and stare into the camera. He was Howard Beale and mad as hell long before Howard Beale.

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(Source: Steve Curtin)

Tung-biu was judge, jury, Chief Steward, Howard Beale and Wyatt Earp and this highly-rated racing show was a million miles away from the vapid fare we get today.

There were said to have been a few fisticuffs during track work between Miers and Tung Biu and various threatened lawsuits. Nothing happened except when soon after Shatin racecourse opened and Miers rode seven winners in one day, a far more subdued racing personality appeared that night. When Peter Miers wanted to win, he made it look very easy. Same the other way round.

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(Peter Miers / Source: The Standard)

There was also Singaporean owner Jerry Sung and his famous red and gold colors- with tassels- which were carried by many including Always Welcome, a horse fondly remembered by some when it won at Happy Valley at odds of 99 to 1 for Wally Hood, a very fine chap, indeed.

Who can forget the “Silver Fox”- trainer Jerry Ng Chi-lam who still makes it to the races today and looks as menacing as ever?

His stable was impossible to follow with all their form reversals and in this horse opera, he was Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach, combined.

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(Ng Chi Lam (L)/ Source: Racing Memories)

Then, there were the racing media personalities- Jim McGrath, Parkey, Wadey and, later, Chris Collins- what a damn good pace bowler he was and what a damn stupid way to lose him- plus jockeys Philip Robinson, good guy David Brosnan who many owe much to for taking the rap for them, our great mate Brent Thompson, always with a young filly on his arm, many of whom took him for bigger rides than any horse, Nigel Tiley- a superb jockey for his time, Danny Brereton, Darryl Holland, trainer Wong Tang-ping and “Ping’s” very special horse named Piranha.

There were a few wins by the horse which made a few people very wealthy men.

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(Wong Tang Ping (R) and Ng Chi Lam / Source: Racing Memories)

Back to the early days, apart from “Golden Boy” Geoff Lane, below, there were the very talented Aussie jockeys Glyn Pretty and Ray Setches- both brilliant in their own ways though the latter was said to be a lousy businessman- and the not-so-talented team of Rod Turvey and Peter Gumbleton.

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(Geoff Lane / Source: Brisbane Racing)

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(Geoff Lane / Source: AAP Newswire)

The Red Seas could have miraculously parted during a race for “Gumbo” to win- and even then, he could have been left stranded while Acker Bilk played Stranger On The Shore.

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(Peter Gumbleton / Source: The Age)

But who else were there?

Johnny Roe comes to mind, the elfin-like former champion Irish jockey who rode for Jerry Ng and had a very tight relationship with owner Poon Wing-gai.

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(Johnny Roe / Source: Daily Mail)

Mr Poon owned Ampere- his best horse- and “variations” of it named Ampersand etc. Johnny Roe on any of this “Amper” horses meant signals- mentally and physically- going off behind the barriers with Roe even buying a castle back home and naming it- what else?- Ampere.

Some of us spent a great deal of time with Johnny Roe- a very nice man plagued with some incredibly bad luck dogging his family and personal life.

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(An Older Johnny Roe)

The last time we saw Johnny was in Bangkok and when he was visiting his old friend Tony Morias, one-time adman who became one of the biggest owners and punters in Macau- but, alas, not a smart one.

Tony hung out with some strange dudes, dudettes and duds and received something like eight different tips from various sources for each race- and then had to give “lucky money” to the one who gave him the winner.

They were all the same person. Get it? Think this doesn’t still go on?

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(Source: Razzle Dazzlers)

Bob Saunders aka Captain Midnight, Russian trainers from Shanghai- George Sofronoff and Nick Metrevelli- and their gorgeous daughters Lydia and Nina- the Mocambo nightclub, Louis KS Ho blatantly stopping 9-5 favorite How Good, jockeys literally jumping off horses so as not to win, betting at The Saddle and The Jockey, the pub at Happy Valley, footballers Derek Currie, below, and Walter Gerrard, all were leading and bit players in this horse opera who have led us to where we are today.

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(Derek Currie / Source: Footballzz)

If the archives of the HKJC could talk, my, my, what stories they could tell…

This entry was posted in Hong Kong Jockey Club, Hong Kong Racing, Horse Racing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A HONG KONG HORSE OPERA

  1. daniel bowen says:

    u should write a book about them times.. great article , really enjoyed it!

    • Hong Kong Visitor late 80's says:

      Great yarn, I was a good mate of Chris Collins, picked up Ian Manning with Chris when he arrived from Sydney at Kai Tak Airport in ’89, sad memory of Chris & Ian’s loss, happy memories of times with Chris, Ivy, Parky, jockeys Robinson & Tiley at Jimmy’s Kitchen.

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