He might not have been the most consistent trainers around, but no one could ignore the power wielded by Jerry Ng Chi-lam.
Known as “The Silver Fox” for his full head of silver hair and the very smart betting coups his stable would successfully pull off, the Shanghainese trainer was best known for his association with the great Silver Lining, one of Hong Kong original legendary equine heroes, owned by Sanford Yung and ridden to many of his wins by American Hall Of Famer Bill Hartack.
The combination of Ng and Hartack was impossible to follow as horses backed and tipped, somehow, almost always, flopped- but when at around 80s, they’d pop up.
No one- not even the tough taking Tung Biu, whose distrust of ALL Aussie jockeys, but, especially, jockey Peter Miers aka “The Organiser”, was legendary and saw himself- and was- “The Voice Of The Punter”- turned a blind eye to Ng’s notorious betting coups.
With fellow trainers Brian Kan and Wong Tang-pin, Tung Biu knew that Ng Chi-lam was trying to own a slice of that betting pie during those colonial days of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club- an arrogant club and loathed by many locals who saw it being a law unto itself- and when expat jockeys seemed to have Get Out Of Jail Free Club until the formation of the Independent Commission Against Corruption which resulted in The Shanghai Syndicate fallout- and brought down many sacred cows.
Perhaps, this is why, no matter what he did with his runners- all those coups with owner Poon Wing-gai’s gallopers with names like Ampere and Ampersand and always ridden by that leprechaun Johnny Roe, below, the way, he would leg up the wily Ray Setches on Windy Sail who was, let’s say, a very “adept jockey”- no one said anything.
What happened in Jerry Ng’s stable, stayed in Jerry Ng’s stable whereas no one could take away from what he achieved with his horses like the tough-to-train Tea For Two 11 to give him his first Hong Kong Derby in 1987 when ridden by Tony Cruz which won by a neck and survived a protest lodged by Bobby Vance on runner-up Flying Dancer.
Of course, there were the successes of Silver Lining, a HK$50,000 Subscription Griffin that was the three-time winner of the Champions And Chater Cup, was voted Horse Of The Year in 1978, 1979 and 1981, and the first horse to win the Shatin Trophy on the opening day of the Shatin racecourse- but when switched to the stable of George Moore and ridden by Peter Leyshan- a vastly underrated jockey for that time.
Like many local trainers and jockeys who’d run their course in Hong Kong, “The Silver Fox” dabbled with training in Macau for a while, but when one has scaled the heights of Hong Kong racing, Macau racing is like a Bonnie Tyler song: Nothing but a heartache.
I ran into Mr Ng about six months ago.
As always, at 6pm on a Wednesday, he was attending the races at Happy Wednesday- though in his Eighties, still looking fit, proud and with that grey mane intact- the one-time Lion King of, especially, the city track.
We exchanged greetings and he opened his racing book, pointed to a horse and gave it the thumbs up. It won at 8s.
Jerry Ng Chi-lam passed away about almost two weeks ago- quietly and in a dignified manner.
Winfried Englbrecht-Bresges paid tribute to him in one of his recent CEO Blogs on the HKJC site, but, otherwise, there has been precious little written about this iconic trainer.
Ng Chi-lam deserved more.
At a time when racing has some bland people in the industry, real characters like “The Silver Fox” should be remembered- and respected- for becoming a local success in colonial Hong Kong when prejudices were rampant and what was then, the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club was not a popular landmark with much of the public.
Ng Chi-lam, who learnt his trade largely by watching Russian trainers like George Sofronoff and Nick Metrevelli who left Shanghai after the Cultural Revolution for Hong Kong, should also be remembered for the savvy ways he used those jockeys he trusted and managed to pull off some truly legendary betting coups.