[A version of this article appeared in the Feb/Mar 2019 issue of International Thoroughbred magazine].
Lau Wai-kit is uncomfortable. Cameras point at his face; questions land like stun grenades. His knee-length shorts brush the tops of sloppy rubber boots. A newly-unwrapped red jacket, pulled from the stable office and thrown on in haste, hides the t-shirt soaked in the sweat of his morning’s work. A white cap, pristine and bearing the logo “JGM”, covers his head.
His one comfort rests at the end of a lead rope, held firmly in his right hand. The tether is attached to a bay gelding’s ring bit. The horse’s head sits upon Lau’s shoulder, the ears stand alert – and then they flick.
“Fifi, give me those mints.” John Moore alone senses the need for an intervention. His wife hands him a green and blue packet.
“I asked the owner to get a few packs of these at that shop, W. H. Smith, in Heathrow. He brought us back a whole box. Beauty Generation loves them,” Moore confides.
Hong Kong’s seven-time champion trainer steps forward and palms a Polo. Hong Kong’s current champion racehorse picks it with his lips and remains calm.
Lau is being interviewed for a Hong Kong Jockey Club social media campaign about the city’s latest equine hero. The videos are to showcase Beauty Generation’s status as the world’s co-equal best miler, according to the LONGINES World’s Best Racehorse Rankings. The Road To Rock six-year-old’s impeccable end to 2018 lifted his rating to 127, equalling Hong Kong’s all-time highest mark set by Able Friend, another Moore star.
Cameras are rolling: “We spend so much time together so we have built a strong bond of trust. To me, he’s more than a friend,” Lau says in Cantonese.
The mafoo, or groom, grew up in the New Territories, away from the tourist-scape of Hong Kong Island, and was a casual punter until he saw a Jockey Club recruitment ad.“This mafoo, he practically lives with the horse!” Moore says. “He was sick recently with a virus and spent a day in hospital and Beauty Generation wasn’t happy for a few days.
“He’s definitely a handful, this horse. If anybody enters his box and tries to work on him they have to be very careful. He will bite and kick you, he can be very dangerous.
“He still bites the groom! But it’s more playful with him,” the trainer adds.
Moore takes the view that champions have their quirks. The handler’s Designs On Rome had a bully boy vicious streak, while the hulking chestnut Able Friend would every morning stand obstinately like a statue at the entrance to the training track.
“Beauty Generation wasn’t a problem at first but now I think he knows he’s good. He gets the VIP treatment – it’s gone to his head a bit. He’s the boss now,” the handler opines.
Not just the boss of his own stable, either. Beauty Generation is forging a reputation that puts him at least alongside the absolute titans of Hong Kong racing: Silent Witness and Sacred Kingdom; Viva Pataca and Vengeance Of Rain; Good Ba Ba, Ambitious Dragon and Able Friend.
The New Zealand-bred raced as Montaigne in Australia where he won two of seven races for trainer Anthony Cummings and showed promise in three Group 1 contests, notably when second in the 10-furlong Rosehill Guineas. That run marked him as a Hong Kong Derby (2000m) prospect.
Sha Tin’s chief four-year-old classic is the race Hong Kong owners desire above all others. Patrick Kwok purchased the gelding through George Moore Bloodstock and renamed him with the “Beauty” prefix applied to horses under the Kwok family ownership. Kwok’s racing-mad father Simon Kwok and mother Eleanor head the locally-famous Sa Sa cosmetics retail chain.
Beauty Generation proved to be among the best of his crop in the spring of 2017, running third to the all-conquering but ill-fated Rapper Dragon in both the Hong Kong Classic Mile and the Hong Kong Derby. A track-record win in a 2200m Class 2 handicap thereafter suggested a future as a classy stayer.
“The trainer and jockey told me he would be a stayer and maybe a Group 3 horse or Group 2 at best,” Kwok, 26, says.
That all changed when Beauty Generation opened the 2017/18 season with surprising front-running wins in Group race handicaps at seven furlongs and a mile and then snared the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile itself. He added further G1 scores in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) and Champions Mile to claim Horse of the Year honours over Pakistan Star.
This season has been even better: At time of writing he is unbeaten in five races. He demolished his rivals in the same Group race handicaps as a year earlier but this time off top-weight; he smashed Good Ba Ba’s mile track record in the G2 Jockey Club Mile at Sha Tin, despite hanging the width of the straight; he toyed with his rivals to win a second Hong Kong Mile and then took the G1 Stewards’ Cup in cruise control.
Beauty Generation’s dominance at Sha Tin comes from an ability to lead and quicken off any tempo.
“He can do things that other horses can’t,” says regular rider Zac Purton, Hong Kong’s champion jockey. “Champions just find a way to win: he can carry big weights, he can do it off any speed.”
But Beauty Generation’s legacy might be one for Hong Kong alone. One tired accusation levelled at the great Winx from old world racing fans is that she is “beating up” the same soft rivals every time. That criticism holds for Beauty Generation but he must also wrestle the fact that he is doing it at the very same racecourse each time.
There was talk of Dubai this March and even dubious whispers of Royal Ascot. Tokyo this summer might be the destination if the Kwoks decide to travel their champ – and that “if” is sizeable at this stage.
“If, at the end of this season, he’s still a fit horse, it could be Japan,” Moore says. “If he could win the Yasuda Kinen people would have to say he’s a very decent horse.”
Kwok, too, would like to test his champion outside of Hong Kong, although he has reservations.
“Japan and Dubai hold some bad memories for us, especially for my dad. Beauty Only went a bit downhill after he ran in Japan and Beauty Flash lost his way completely after Dubai,” the owner says.
Moore is frustrated on the one hand with a general hesitance among Hong Kong owners to travel horses, even though the city’s gallopers have won 27 overseas Pattern races in seven countries (excluding Macau). On the other hand, he is pragmatic.
“Superstition is involved,” he says. “I had an owner come to me and say ‘Able Friend went to England and he never came back as good’. But the big horse just lost the plot when he got to Ascot – they can be ratty those Shamardals. He came back and he was still brilliant until he picked up that injury.
“But the owners pay the bills. With Beauty Generation, he belongs to the Kwoks; I can have my view but it’s their call and I always respect that. They want to surpass Viva Pataca’s all-time Hong Kong prize money record (HK$83,197,500) so that’s our aim.”
Back at the media troupe, Beauty Generation is suddenly restless. His powerful quarters move close to an inattentive sound man standing against the trotting ring’s outer rail, who finds himself in a tightening pocket.
“Ok, pull him forward,” Moore tells Lau. The mafoo is already on it. Danger averted, he leads Beauty Generation for a turn around the ring and breathes easier with the cameras and questions at his back. And, world travel or not, Lau’s appraisal of Hong Kong’s ‘Master Miler’ is beyond any prejudicial judgement of greatness: “I would describe him as my son,” he says.