[This profile feature was published in the December 2018 issue of Badges magazine].
Patrick Kwok sits in a window-side booth nine floors above one of Causeway Bay’s more folksy bourgeois back lanes: Tang Lung Street, where graffiti and earthy local eateries nestle cheek-to-cheek with sushi joints, lobster bars and the glistening glass-and-steel fronts of chain coffee shops and Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant.
It is mid-morning and the bar is in relaxed brunch mode. Kwok’s hands cup a tapering mug, Prussian blue in hue; “PK”, embroidered in immaculate navy thread, adorns white cuffs which poke from the tailored sleeves of a blue suit, middling in palette with a discreet pin-line check; his collar is open – tieless.
“The year Beauty Flash won, I wasn’t even there for the international races; I was young, I just didn’t want to go. I remember I had to wear a tie and I didn’t want to, so I didn’t go,” Kwok says.
He sips from the mug, pausing to process the memory of that youthful domestic rebellion.
“It’s funny because now I love horseracing, I own racehorses, I own a suit shop, I’m in the tie business, and yet I didn’t go to one of the biggest races in the world because of a tie!”
Beauty Flash won the Hong Kong Mile in the famous silks of Dr. Simon Kwok: pink sleeves, white cross-belts on a black body, white and black checked cap. Kwok senior and his wife, Eleanor, head up the Sa Sa cosmetics retail company, one of Hong Kong’s most recognisable brands. They are also big-hitters on the Hong Kong racing scene, famous for their horses named ‘Beauty’.
“I just wanted to go and play some football – why would I want to go to a horse race and wear a suit?” the son says.
Times change. The youngest Kwok – he has two older sisters – now has his own variation of the pink, black and white. They are carried by the best thoroughbred in Hong Kong and 12 months ago Kwok was at Sha Tin, suited, booted and tied, to watch the remarkable Beauty Generation emulate Beauty Flash at one of world racing’s great occasions.
Beauty’s a family thingKwok, 26, has a suit shop on Wellington Street in Central. That sartorial enterprise and real estate are his businesses: his passions are Manchester United and race horses.
The thoroughbred owner with a successful business portfolio is some way removed from the youngster who boarded at Millfield School, England.
“I wasn’t a particularly good kid,” he says, adding that he has matured a lot since he returned to Hong Kong. He credits where he is now with horse racing and the love of family – the two interweave in the Kwok household.
“If we didn’t talk horses there wouldn’t be much conversation at dinner, especially with my dad,” he notes with a smile.
“Family is very important to us. That’s one of the reasons I like horses, it gives us a way to talk and connect – I think my relationship with my dad got a lot closer after I became interested in horse racing. That’s probably the biggest reason I first got into it, to have that connection with my dad. I respect him a lot and I like to talk to him.”
The hook, though, came with a horse he shared in partnership with his mother. “Beauty Only – the day he won the Classic Mile, that was the start,” he reveals.
Incredibly, Kwok has been a named owner of only three horses and the first two turned out to be champions: Beauty Only won the 2015 Hong Kong Classic Mile, stepped up to win the 2016 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile and was crowned Champion Miler at that season’s end.
“It gradually developed,” he says. “I wasn’t very interested before I was involved in that ownership. He did very well and then I started studying his races, his opponents, like Contentment – so at first my interest was around Beauty Only but then I became interested in everything, from Class 1 to Class 5. But it all started with Beauty Only.”
After Beauty Only, Kwok had the opportunity to own a horse in his own name – his personal silks display white spots against the black body. That horse is Beauty Generation.
“I’ve been very lucky,” he admits. “It’s very hard for any owner to have their first two horses being international Group 1 winners and Beauty Generation being such an amazing, honest, tough horse that just does everything right. Yes, I’m very lucky to have that.”
Generation risesBeauty Generation was an $8.40 chance to win last year’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile: Beauty Only, the defending champion, was the 4.5 second-favourite. “I bet on Beauty Only: That sums it up!” Kwok says.
Beauty Generation led the field, kicked clear and delivered an emotion-packed victory for Kwok, trainer John Moore, and local jockey Derek Leung. But the owner’s emotion was not manifest in fist-pumping elation.
“It’s a pretty empty feeling,” he states. “I mean, the emotion just empties you out. I couldn’t think of anything – it was such a big race and it was a big surprise, I couldn’t believe it.
“I’d watched the race and then I was waiting for the replay to come up – you just want to watch it over and over again. It’s a great feeling to go on the grass, to lift the trophy and sing the national anthem.”
Kwok was particularly delighted for Leung. The popular Hong Kong-born rider partnered Beauty Generation to three wins from four starts, landing the G3 Celebration Cup and G2 Sha Tin Trophy en route to his December triumph. He maintained the partnership after Beauty Generation’s defeat in the G2 BOCHK Jockey Club Mile, with the Kwok’s usual number one choice, Zac Purton, aboard Beauty Only.
“During the race, people were shouting ‘Derek, Derek, Derek,’ and that feeling was special. He’s a nice guy, very humble, and he’s a good jockey,” he says. “It was a very rare thing to see that support for him – if people bet on a jockey they will shout his name, but that day everyone was shouting for him.
“He was a big part of the story,” he continues. “After his four-year-old season, I remember Zac and John told me Beauty Generation might be a Group 3 horse – Group 2 at most – but after his first race in his second season, when Derek won the Group 3 on him, John said, ‘You know, I might be wrong’ and there was the change of racing style, change of distance, and suddenly we’re thinking he could be a very good horse.
“It was a big surprise to go from a Class 2 winner and a stayer one season to a champion miler the next.”
A genuine champBeauty Generation went on to win the G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) and G1 Champions Mile (1600m) with Purton back in the plate. With three G1 scores, a G2 and a G3 on his record last term, he was named Hong Kong Horse of the Year, but not before some debate about his merits against the mercurial and brilliant Pakistan Star.
“It bothered me a bit,” Kwok admits. “But, you know, last year, even I said that Pakistan Star was more famous. People thought that Beauty Generation didn’t have the shine, that he wasn’t a true Horse of the Year. But right now, he’s shown that he is.”
This term (at time of writing), Beauty Generation has bagged two from two, shouldering 133lb top-weight for repeat wins in the G3 Celebration Cup and G2 Sha Tin Trophy, the latter by half a length. He is the equal top-rated active turf miler in the world and heading towards the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile in imperious form.
“I’m worried about him being fit too early, about getting tired – his last race was not easy and he’s carried 133lb both races. But he’s a tough horse, John’s a great trainer and hopefully he can win the Group 1 again,” he says.
And, he notes, Purton has a 100% winning record since retaking the reins. That gives the owner increased confidence for another successful G1 campaign: “I’d love him to win all of the Group 1 mile races this year – that’s my dream.”