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Martin Harley on Happy Valley: New tracks, big crowds and one to watch

I’m exciting to be writing for Coral during my time out here in Hong Kong bringing insight into one of the most vibrant racing countries in the world and hopefully having a few winners too.

I’ve been given a three month contract to ride out here and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m lucky I’ve had some help from Ryan Moore and Silvestre de Sousa about adjusting to life out here and I’m looking forward to getting going properly.

From the minute I landed and got off the plane it has been an entirely new experience for me. I’ve never been anywhere like this before and it’s taking some getting used to. And the jet lag, my goodness that threw me off for the first couple of days!

I was met soon after arriving by officials from the Hong Kong Jockey Club and went straight to watch some track work and to introduce myself to a few people in the racing community here. I got my first chance to have a ride on my second morning out here and had a chance to have a feel of the dirt track, which is always good because it’s not what I’m used to.

Dealing with the dirt: Happy Valley’s dirt track is a very different proposition

I made the most of the opportunity to meet a few more people before I left. It’s all about making contacts in this game so people will be prepared to give you a chance, so any opportunity to speak to someone I’m going to take. Their English is very good – better than mine I almost think – and that’s made communication good so far, which is really helpful.

Trainer Ricky Yiu put me up on a couple of mounts on Sunday as a result of the introductions and it’s like anything, to start off with it’s very much about me settling in and getting my bearings and used to it. I would hope with more track work, the chance to do barrier trials, riding and meeting people I’ll get more opportunities.

My first day riding was on Thursday which was the Chinese New Year’s Day meeting at Sha Tin and it was an incredible experience. There were over 100,000 people there and it surpassed anything I’ve known in terms of atmosphere and excitement – even Royal Ascot.

In the thick of it: A packed Happy Valley crowd watches on.

My first ride was on an outsider and it gave me the chance to have a good feel of the course and the general rhythm of a raceday.

One of the things I’ll have to get used to is the starting stalls. On top of them there is a light that flashes and there is another one on the starter’s rostrum. When the one on the rostrum goes on the stalls can open at any time and you have to be on your game. At home there’s normally a shout or something audible for you to react to whereas here you have to have your wits about you to know to get out as soon as that second, smaller light starts to flash.

I’ll be getting stuck into work mornings this week and hopefully taking part in some of the barrier trials too. I was at Happy Valley the other morning and saw one of the big horses out here called in action called Gold Mount. He’s being lined up for a big race here in a couple of weeks and I believe Ryan Moore is flying in to take the ride, so watch out for him.

This week I’ve got three rides at Happy Valley on Wednesday including one for Tony Cruz, a former champion trainer in Hong Kong, in the opening race. They all look solid rides to pick up so hopefully they can all run decent races.

I’m still getting to grips with the form out here and what it is like to be involved in a different racing environment, but hopefully I’ll be able to crack on and make an impact.