Dettori joins idols in Happy Valley frenzy

The Guns blazed over Happy Valley last night; the darkness removed by an electric storm of flash bulbs. The senses told you that something different was happening in the former colony.

The Guns blazed over Happy Valley last night; the darkness removed by an electric storm of flash bulbs. The senses told you that something different was happening in the former colony.

They have raced in this enclave for over 150 years, but this weekend Hong Kong seriously shoulders its way into global racing for the first time. On Sunday Sha Tin, the course on the mainland New Territories, hosts the International series of races. This consists of four contests bearing £2.5m in prize-money, including the Hong Kong Cup, afforded, for the first time, Group One status.

Last night was the opening ceremony at Happy Valley, the original racecourse on Hong Kong Island. It was a fusion of East meeting West, neon blending with sport and, in such circumstances, it was appropriate that the International Jockeys' Challenge should be won by Frankie Dettori.

Dettori has done as much for racing, and himself, as anyone in the 1990s and, as the millennium closes, past misdemeanours have been forgotten in these parts. The memory of the minor drugs offence which once prevented his access to Hong Kong has long since been swept under the carpet.

The high that mattered last night was the altitude of his dismount. The audience warmed to Dettori's celebrations alongside his vanquished opponents, Olivier Peslier and Kieren Fallon. Indeed, from the moment a fusillade announced proceedings, the jockeys' every moment was followed by lenses.

Fallon struck in the first leg aboard Success Magic, Dettori was on target in the third and final leg on Prodigy, with Peslier taking the race in between. But it was Dettori, who had to survive an objection against his winner, that took the championship by registering more points from his beaten horses.

Fallon has a contract to ride in Hong Kong this winter and his experience of the track was underlined when he landed a treble on the night, his other wins coming with Braveheart and Commander Charlie.

There seemed little professional antagonism between the combatants, but it is, of course, not difficult to be on good terms with yourself when you are a small athlete here. For invited riders this is the new Klondike. Jockeys are feted in this territory like no other. If there is one seat in a top restaurant remaining it will go to a jockey in preference to a movie star.

Riders here can make themselves, and others, a lot of money. "You can earn more in one winter in Hong Kong than you can in five or six years in England," Fallon says. And he is our champion jockey.

If money makes the world go round then this little realm spins with centrifugal force. There is probably no betting shop in Britain which has not been frequented by a Chinese punter and this is not a habit they pick up on their travels.

The serious players have not strayed, though, and they ensure that the Hong Kong Jockey Club is an enormously successful organisation.

Bookmaking is illegal here and the pari-mutuel set-up is enough to make Tote proponents elsewhere weep. There is pool betting on course at Happy Valley and Sha Tin, telephone accounts, 125 off-course betting branches and 82,000 Customer Input Terminals (CITS), hand-held betting devices that are used in conjunction with mobile phones.

The turnover generated is fabulous. The HKJC is a non-profit-making organisation. Last year they donated over HK$1bn (over £80m) to charity. This makes it the largest charity donor in Hong Kong and one of the biggest in the world.

The most popular bet is the Quinella (a dual forecast) and the most speculative the Triple Trio - the conundrum of providing the first, second and third in any order in three designated races. It's not easy, but at least you don't have to work again. Last year two punters got it to a HK$5 bet (60p) and collected about £6m each. It must have been a struggle to get it home.

This is a strange environment even for some of our more bloated participants, so heaven knows what it means to the travelling artisans. It is a warm sensation to be in the company of men of the North like Eric Alston and David Nicholls. Both are represented in the sprint - a race for Orient Expresses - by Tedburrow and Rudi's Pet respectively.

There is, however, an acclimatisation problem in the Tedburrow camp. The seven-year- old travelled over most satisfactorily but his trainer was confined to quarters for 48 hours with jet lag. Rehabilitation, though, has almost been completed and there would be no greater sight than Alston doffing his trademark feathered hat on Sunday in front of the popping bulbs.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'