Jenny - Clean


IT doesn’t seem to matter how far from home you travel to watch the races – down the road to the local pub, a few more kilometers to the local track, or even overseas to attend a major meeting – there is always someone ready to tip you a winner.

But nothing quite compares with Hong Kong where during International Week it is just assumed that you are there for the races. Everyone from the cab driver to the hotel porter and the guy on the Kowloon street trying to flog you a fake Rolex has that very special tip.

That comes as no surprise when you consider how much the Hong Kong locals love a bet. Last season alone they invested a record $HK117.4 billion on horse racing, which equates to an amazing $A19.6 billion.

The locals have embraced their biggest week of racing proudly and passionately from the pipe-opening International Jockey's Championship  on the Wednesday night at Happy Valley to the main day at Sha Tin when four Group Ones for massive prizemoney are run the following Sunday. (That's this week by the way for those who have been living under a rock)!

Once it was a rare occasion if a local horse won one of the big races – Silent Witness the star sprinter of some years back became a Hong Kong racing cult hero – but these days there are few International meetings when a locally-trained star doesn’t salute.

On my many visits to Hong Kong to cover International Week as a racing journalist I witnessed first-hand how punting is a common thread that bonds millions of locals much closer on race days.

Not having made the trip back for several years I was given a gentle reminder of that through a strange twist of fate in recent months. For some time now a series of e-mails not intended for me have arrived on my computer.

These have involved a dispute between neighboring tenants in a Hong Kong apartment block and one of the parties shares a similar e-mail address to me and consequently I have been privy to some comical barter that has occurred.

His name is Jimmy Lucky and he has been in dispute with his neighbors Merry and Jerry Chung and Henry Lam. They have traded verbal blows after work undertaken on Jimmy’s part of the apartment block went somewhat amiss and has been the cause of much concern for some months. It was like a scene from an episode of Fawlty Towers.

There were major drainage problems with leakage into neighboring properties and the e-mails flew thick and fast. Plumbers were called in but it took much longer than expected to correct the problems.

Then the rains arrived, the drains over-flowed and pavers floated away. It all got too much – as the harshly worded e-mails flowed back and forth – and eventually a project manager was appointed in to sort it out.

His workers corrected the problems but unfortunately didn’t clean up their mess and it was on again between all concerned. About a week ago – after months of conflict – the problem was finally resolved. There was a general ‘kiss and make up’ between the parties.

A few days ago Jimmy Lucky offered an olive branch to the warring parties in the form of a 'tip' for one of the big races on International Day next Sunday which was very well received by all concerned, especially as he went so far as explaining where it had originated.

Believe it or not, the big tip originated from a high roller gambler from Japan and was passed on to Macau Mick at the Lisbao Casino. He then told Sampan Sam who passed it on to Kowloon Kate who is a girl-friend of Jimmy Lucky. By the end of the day Jimmy had tipped it to Merry and Gerry Chung and Harry Lam and where it went from there – who knows?

Like a pyramid letter I decided to give it a good send around here. Rather than keep you in suspense any longer the tip is for LET'S GO DONKI in the Group One Hong Kong Sprint and it is a $15 chance in Fixed Odds betting with the corporate bookies in Australia. It's a tough assignment for this high profile Japanese sprinter especially as the locals cannot see MR STUNNING or LUCKY BUBBLES getting beaten.

It just goes to show that with the help of an e-mail you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home to get a tip from as far afield as Hong Kong these days. It’s never hard to get an internet tip but hopefully this one will be a shade more reliable than most.

Any ‘free-loading journo’ who has ever been to International Week will tell you that when it comes to ‘junkets’ for the racing media the Hong Kong Jockey Club wins hands down with its spectacular each December.

They say there is no such thing as a free lunch but in horse racing this could well be the exception – just ask those who partake of the annual Honkers media package.

Every year the HKJC heavily subsidizes what has become known as a pre-Christmas working holiday for hundreds of members of the racing media from throughout the world.

For a fraction of what it would cost an individual to travel to Hong Kong for International Week the racing media is wined, dined and treated like Royalty. All that the club asks is that those who seek package invitations provide proof that they legitimately covered the event.

Those attending for the first time cannot believe the red carpet treatment. Others who have been going there for years remember when it was even better. The word continues to spread in the racing media that this is ‘the place to be’ every December and the numbers continue to grow.

Back in the era when the star Queensland sprinter Falvelon and the Hong Kong favorite Silent Witness were dominating the big day there were some in the racing media almost embarrassed by the magnitude of this ‘junket.’

It reached such dizzy heights that some mates and I confided in a leading HKJC official over a few quiet drinks one year that they were 'doing too much for us.’ Can you imagine that – free-loaders from the media actually complaining that they were being too well looked after?

It had reached the stage where the social side of proceedings had started to overtake what the media was really brought there for to such a degree that some were too tired or hung over most days to even bother doing their jobs properly. You almost needed a holiday when you got home to recover from the week in Honkers.

Here’s an example of what the subsidized media package once included and in some cases still does: Return air fares and transfers from your point of embarkation worldwide; five nights’ accommodation in a five star hotel suite overlooking the spectacular Hong Kong harbor; a coach to and from Sha Tin for trackwork every morning where they provide a breakfast you can’t jump over while you watch the action; an endless list of functions where you never put your hand in your pocket; and an array of gifts ranging from watches to merchandising jackets and caps etc.

That social calendar starts with the International Jockeys’ Championship meeting at Happy Valley on the Wednesday night where they have a special grandstand function area set aside for the media to be wined and dined overlooking the track; a barrier draw function and luncheon on the Thursday (where unlimited Peking Duck was once the big drawcard) followed by a media welcome at a special dinner that night (often held at the big restaurant on The Peak); an invite to one of the biggest social events in Hong Kong, the International Ball on the Friday night (held either at the Convention Centre or the former Governor’s Residence at Stanley); then the choice of a city or islands tour on the Saturday with another free lunch and endless drinks thrown in.

By the time the International Race Day arrives on the Sunday many are almost asleep in the coach on the way to the track – fatigued by the endless round of wining, dining and socializing that has preceded what they actually came to cover.

The HKJC provides a huge high-rise suite at the media hotel on Hong Kong Island decked out with computers, food and drinks and then on race day at Sha Tin the press room on the ground floor provides a special luncheon area and some of the best media facilities on any racetrack in the world.

If that isn’t enough the media contingent is spoon fed with information – interviews with jockeys, trainers, officials; photographs provided by the club of everything that moves during their big week and on International Day; then comments from all the participating parties as the feature races are run. Writers and commentators don't really need to leave their desks.

When it is all finished, providing you can justify your trip with proof of coverage back home, you can return and do it all again the next year. Is it little wonder that some even double it as a pre-Christmas or annual holiday with their wives or partners?

The social side of the media package may have been scaled down to a degree from what it used to be – perhaps someone took our advice that it was affecting the amount of actual work being done. But it is still 10 out of 10 when it comes to racing ‘junkets’.



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