AFTER MY FIRST visit to the Happy Valley Racecourse on 2nd March 2010 for M’s hockey tournament, I once again found myself on a racecourse two weeks later. This time it was the Sha Tin Racecourse in the New Territories, and for a race, in fact the mother of all races – THE DERBY – where thoroughbred horses compete in world-class racing.
According to reports, the Hong Kong Derby has been held annually since 1873, first at Happy Valley Racecourse, and moved to Sha Tin Racecourse from 1979 till this day. In 1981, the HK Derby was restricted to only horses that are four years old. So for the horses, it’s a once in a lifetime chance to win the coveted title, and a dream for many horse owners.
That Sunday afternoon of 14th March, we were invited to the Derby Reception 2010 at the Sha Tin Clubhouse. I quickly flipped through Sunday’s South China Morning Post. Its Racing pullout headlined “It’s Derby Day and the city’s top trainers are all in the chase for the HK$16m prize at Sha Tin”. That was all that made sense to me. The rest of the 12 pages containing columns and tables of details, statistics, tipsters’ predictions, race jargons, etc. might as well be written in horse language!
When we arrived at the Private Box on the 6th Floor, many of our colleagues were already there. The huge enthusiastic crowd at the public forecourt that day was testament to horse racing being a favourite pastime of Hongkongers, even considered part of its culture. (The Hong Kong Jockey Club that administers the races and bets is the largest tax contributor to the island.)
We helped ourselves to the buffet lunch and got better acquainted with the events of the day. We were later led to the parade ring where we got a closer look at the thoroughbreds before they raced.
There were 10 races that day with distants between 1.2km to 2km. The race to look out for was Race 8 which was the 2km Mercedes Benz Hong Kong Derby (Mercedes Benz became the main sponsor since 2004.)
I heard people talked about odds and dividends, they sought opinions and exchanged views. I saw people placing their bets at the counters right up to the last minute before a race began. I heard the roar of the crowd every time the horses sprint their final distance to the finishing line. As the roar died down, I imagined there were winners and big losers too.
The biggest winners that day were undoubtedly Super Satin and its owner Ranjan Mahtani, trainer Casper Fownes and champion jockey Douglas Whyte, who took home the Mercedes Benz Hong Kong Derby 2010 title that came with a HK$16 million prize!
Confession 1: After 10 races that ran between 1-6pm, alas, I came out of the event as ignorant as when I first stepped into the Private Box. Well at least I left feeling full from the continuous flow of food and drinks.
Confession 2: I went away a little poorer too. I was betting on the so-called “beginner’s luck”. I’d put some money on Fun Rider (ridden by same jockey David Whyte) in Race 5. So much for beginner’s luck. Fun Rider lost to Public Figure by the nose and came in second (it was that close!). Well at least I know my money went into helping pay HK taxes 🙂
That Derby date turned out to be “a once in a lifetime” for me, as we left Hong Kong later that year.