Jenny - Clean


FOR a punting tragic, working in Hong Kong, this was always the most exciting time of the year with the new racing season about to begin.

Unlike Australia – where there is wall-to-wall racing most days of the week – you tend to suffer withdrawal symptoms in Honkers during its 10-week absence.

But spare a thought for the locals who gamble billions of dollars every week at their two race meetings at Sha Tin and Happy Valley. Jockey Club officials reckon they need the break to spend more time with their families.

During the years I lived in Hong Kong with my wife and family, racing became a very important part of my life. That was largely because my best mates at the newspaper where I worked were involved in covering the sport, which is huge over there.

As I have said before Hong Kong brings back some of the best and worst memories of my life. I love the place and the racing but it was never quite the same after the tragic and sudden death of two of my closest friends.

In the early hours of January 22, 1990, Chris Collins and Ian ‘Kid’ Manning, were partying with friends after attending the Sunday races in Macau. They would take a fateful car ride at the end of the night that would end with the pair catapulted off a bridge and killed.

There was speculation at the time that their investigations into alleged Chinese gang involvement in Hong Kong racing had caused their deaths. Those close to them are confident that wasn’t the case but the exact details of what occurred that terrible night remain a mystery.

From the time he walked through customs into the arrivals hall at the then Kai Tak Inernational Airport, Chris Collins blended perfectly into the Hong Kong scene. But the brightly colored open-neck shirts that became his trademark would probably have been more at home in Waikiki than Wan Chai. Even if Chris had chosen not to wear them, his extra large, athletic frame ensured that nobody would ever miss him in a crowd.

Still in his late teens, little did this burly son of a Rockhampton policeman know the impact his presence would have on horse racing in Hong Kong. Scarcely out of his journalistic cadetship, Collins made Hong Kong his oyster – graduating to the role of Chief Racing Writer with the South China Morning Post. We were great mates and I went to visit him there many times on holidays before the family and I moved there to work.

This was well before Ian Manning left Sydney looking for opportunity and adventure in Asia and determined to further his career as a racing writer. Sadly, it was only three months after his arrival that Manning’s body was found floating in shallow water near Macau days after his 31st birthday.

Only a week earlier I had received a telephone call at work telling me to get over to this pub in Kowloon to join the pair. I walked into a private bar to find Chris holding court. They were drinking and gambling with a couple of top jockeys and their minders. ‘The Kid’ was sitting there in his jocks doing his you-know-what. Collins had a huge pot of beer and a pile of silver coins you couldn’t jump over. Later that night my wife, Sheila, joined me and we went with the boys out on a corporate junk for dinner at a nearby island. They were the life of the party.

I found it hard coming to terms with their loss. Hong Kong was never the same. I headed home to Australia and have been back for the international races several times but the memories of their presence will haunt me whenever I visit the place.

After almost a decade in Hong Kong, Chris often spoke to me of his dream of returning home to Australia, settling down with his Chinese wife, Ivy, and starting a family. That dream turned to a nightmare.

Hard work and gritty determination gained Collins the reputation as an outstanding racing and investigative reporter. Those skills threw him head first into the biggest story to break in Hong Kong during his time there – the race fixing scandal of 1986 which received international coverage.

But there was another mischievous side to Collins. I will never forget him cheekily baring his backside to the bar girls who greeted him as he walked down the street in Wan Chai, or chatting in Cantonese to the cab driver taking us from one bar to another, or the night we got pulled over in a Mercedes driven by a champion jockey who was a little over the limit but got out of trouble by tipping a winner for the next day to the policeman who recognized him.

Collins was often loud and blunt, but never boring. The pace he set was hectic and never slackened to the day he died. He could be very angry if he was beaten and that applied whether he was chasing a story, trying to back a winner, or opening the bowling for the Hong Kong cricket team.

It was in his highly competitive nature to be a winner. And that’s how I best remember him. He toured the world for Hong Kong and loved to recall playing in front of 20,000 in Dacca against Bangladesh in the final of the south-west Asian Cup when he was voted the tournament’s fastest bowler.

Just before his death Chris was selected in the Hong Kong team to contest the lead-up to the World Cup. “If we win our section we get to compete against the best,” he said. “Just imagine me whistling one around the ears of Viv Richards.”

It came as no surprise that from the moment Manning arrived in Hong Kong, he and Chris became great mates. A larger-than-life larrikin and snappy dresser, ‘the Kid’ was as big a hit at the racetrack as he was with the ladies.

Ian was a Sydney boy through and through but beyond the familiar turf of Randwick and Rosehill, where he'd worked as a part-time stable-hand before journalism, he dreamt of the exciting world of racing outside Australia. He jumped at the opportunity to work for the South China Morning Post, based in Macau.

Saturday, January 20, 1990, was Kid's birthday. He spent the afternoon exploring Macau and then went to the Lisboa Casino. The next day he joined Collins at the Macau races after which they met up for a few drinks on Tapia Island.

They partied well into the night at the Green Parrot bar before joining Kevin Williams, an Australian-born director from the Macau Jockey Club and his secretary, Florinda Cardoso, for the trip back to the Macau Peninsula.

British jockey, Lindsay Charnock, who had been with the group and had allegedly at some stage lost his driver’s license, was behind the wheel of the car which crashed on the Tapia Bridge. Charnock, Williams and Cardoso were rushed to hospital. It was not realized until the next day that the two Australian journalists were missing.

At some stage during the crossing of the bridge, Charnock had lost control, crashing into a parapet then hitting a guard-rail. Eye-witness accounts saw the car airborne as it came over the crest. Police said the impact of the crash sent Manning and Collins into the water some 25m below. The exact details have never been confirmed but there were stories that the pair were sky-larking and answered a dare to ride on the bonnet of the car.

For more than 48 hours, local authorities searched for the two before a fisherman found Kid’s body. Collins was never located. His father, Fred, flew from Queensland to lead a fruitless search despite hiring a helicopter and offering a $US1000 reward. His wife, Ivy, was heart-broken.

I’ll never the forget the last time we spent together on that corporate junk heading to Lantau Island with Ian and ‘the Kid’ in seventh heaven downing cans and tossing the empties over their shoulders as little Ivy just shook her head.

Every time I return to Hong Kong – usually for International Day in December – the memory of these two great guys and their love for life continues to haunt me. But as the field thunders down the Sha Tin straight I have this vision of these two punting tragics, perched high above the stand, stubby in hand, betting with each other on who will win the next.



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