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AG’s greatest punting tales: A Sha Tin adventure

Sha TinBEING in a foreign country can unsettle the nerves at the best of times, but placing my first bet at Sha Tin in Hong Kong was definitely a testing experience.

I arrived at the track early in the morning with the intentions of betting as much as I could, as often as I could. The problem being that everyone else on course that day had the same mindset, all 85,000 of them!

Being on course at Sha Tin was a lot like, what I would imagine, the olden days were like. You couldn’t just stroll up to a little old lady at the Tab and place your bet and I couldn’t jump on like I would now. I used to look at old pictures of my local racing clubs, where the grandstands were packed and punters were lining up one race in advance so they didn’t miss out, this was relatively similar.

Betting offshore in Hong Kong was, at the time, illegal, so, if you wanted some legal action, you’d have to attend one of their weekly meetings. None of this ‘sit back in your chair from home’ stuff, these guys are for real and they cracked down hard on it.

To be honest, I had organised for someone to place bets for me in Australia, in case I missed out, or if there were better odds available back at home, but that quickly got extinguished by what happened next.

To my demise, I hadn’t learnt the conversion rates between the Hong Kong dollar and the Australian so I had the intention of calling my ‘associate’ back home to find out the odds and compare them to those being offered on track. So, I picked up my phone and tried calling home, but within a few seconds of having this tiny device glued to my ear I heard a strange noise from beside me. “No! No phones!” said a man wearing what looked like military uniform. I quickly learnt how strict they are over here, I couldn’t even make a personal call.

The race of the day was the Hong Kong Mile, but there were a few appetisers leading into the Group 1 event. I thought I’d queue up nice and early to place a bet on whatever race was next to jump. I wasn’t overly aware of the customs to placing a bet in Hong Kong so I slid my cash over – in a formal matter that brought up casino flashbacks – and asked for a $100 win bet on the favourite. It may have been my naivety or the occasion getting to me, but either way I thought a $100 bet was substantial and took off to find a viewing spot where I’d wait nervously for my big bet to come in.

Trying to find somewhere to watch the race was a mission but I managed to squeeze between heads just to catch a glimpse of the home straight. To my surprise, the race had already started but the sheer noise made it impossible to hear the commentators call. Keeping in theme with my well organised day, I hadn’t picked up a race book and didn’t have a clue what colours the favourite was racing in. Clueless and a little visibly frustrated, I again waited in line just to see if my big bet had come off. To my surprise it had won and I had seemingly turned my day around. I thought I’d better place a bet on the day’s feature race before I miss out, so I placed another $100 bet on the second favourite this time.

By now, the crowd had increased tenfold and I knew finding a good viewing spot was all but gone. I was a punter who needed to see the race, or at least hear it otherwise the point of betting was moot. I went into the stand but all I could see were people blocking my way and being small in stature, I was in no place to push through the masses. I had only one option left and that was to contact my associate back home and tell him to put the phone against the T.V so I could hear the commentary. The lines for the lavatory had been long all day, but only minutes out from the feature race, the sea’s parted and I was in there! I nervously looked around to see if anyone was on my case but I had the all clear, after all, I had a lot of money riding on this bet.

Sha Tin crowdThe race starts and I can clearly hear the commentary, something that seemed like a luxury at the time. As they swung the final turn into the straight, I could hear my horse was making his run down the outside and I couldn’t help myself, I had to spur it on otherwise it would definitely get beat. 200 metres from the finishing post and my horse had hit the front and like every person having a cheeky punt on horses has experienced, those final 200 metres seem like two miles. My big bet held on to win by a length and I was ecstatic; I hadn’t planned on making money out of this excursion.

I queued up with the masses, collected my winnings and called it a day. I had taken the bus from the hotel to the track on the way in, but I thought I’d use some of my winnings by hailing a cab. It was only a 20-minute ride so I knew I’d have enough to spend elsewhere. The taxi driver asked me for $200 to which I laughed. “You’re kidding me right? I just spent $200 at the track, how can the fare be so expensive?”

As it turns out, my big bets were not so big. $26 was the total of my track spending and my dreams of being a big shot overseas punter had been quickly dampened. For a region so small, Hong Kong certainly lives on the big scale, especially on the racing front. When people ask about my experience there I often recall this story, but always end it with how every punter would. “I went two for two.”