Magazine article The Spectator

Hong Kong Thrills

Magazine article The Spectator

Hong Kong Thrills

Article excerpt

Kind friends might call it a robe, a kimono or a sort of Eastern dressing-gown. But the garment a team filming a BBC holiday programme in Hong Kong had me wearing for a fashion shoot at the elegantly trendy Shanghai Tang just before Christmas felt distinctly like a dress. And Naomi Campbell I am not. Her bumps and curves come in different sizes and places, and I suspect I am not going to be allowed to live it down when the item is screened. But that was a small price to pay for being in Hong Kong for the International Race Day which was our film's real focus, for this year surely marked the arrival of the Chinese Special Administrative Region as a first-class racing power.

I love the buzz and bustle of Hong Kong, a city state which does not need a national flag or flower. It has instead a national sound, the sound of the pneumatic drill as Hong Kong constantly strives to better itself, to build ever-taller, ever-glossier office blocks and hotels in keeping with its space-age airport and the tube system where your mobile phone works. And Hong Kong is the one place I know where horse racing, the only outlet for a betting mad public who punt with one in seven of the dollars they earn, really could be described as the national sport. The SAR has long deserved the quality racing it is now getting.

You could not have wanted a better contest than this year's Hong Kong Mile. The local hero Fairy King Prawn, trained by Ivan Allan, was being blown home by the crowd as he failed by a short head to catch Sunline, the tough race mare from New Zealand, after giving her five lengths lead into the straight. Daliapour, who had already been bought by Hong Kong property millionaire Robert Ng Chee Siong and who was running his last race for Sir Michael Stoute before continuing his career with Ivan Allan, simply oozed class in the Hong Kong Vase, winning by a comfortable four lengths.

Fantastic Light, down in the programme as a United Arab Emirates entry although trained in Britain by Saeed bin Suroor, was also a clear winner of the Hong Kong Cup, coming home by one and a quarter lengths under Frankie Dettori from Stoute's Greek Dance. He did me a favour in the process. Struck by Frankie's optimism when I interviewed him before the race, I had the whole crew gambling on his victory. Since the next morning's filming involved me imbibing a noxious brew of Chinese herbal medicine heaven knows what form revenge might have taken if the bet had gone down. The ever-willing Dettori, incidentally, is a one-man public relations industry for racing. …

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