David Morgan

Chief Journalist


‘Good guy’ O’Sullivan ready to bid farewell to Hong Kong

Trainer Paul O’Sullivan tells David Morgan he is very much at peace with his decision to exit Hong Kong at the end of the current season.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club’s training roster will be reduced to just 20 handlers at the close of this season, following the announcement that Paul O’Sullivan will not apply to be relicensed for the 2022-23 season.

Just as HKJC’s big-name newcomer, Jamie Richards, is busily building a team at Sha Tin, his fellow Kiwi, O’Sullivan, is preparing for the final 12 race meetings of his 18-year tenure in Hong Kong.

“I heard a guy say on TV the other day that a good time to go is when people want you to stay, so now is a good time for me to go,” O’Sullivan told Asian Racing Report.

“Hong Kong has been absolutely wonderful to me. I haven’t been pushed or disappointed into having to go. But I’m 62, there’s no real reason to stay on.”

Hong Kong is experiencing a consistent exodus of people fatigued by almost two and a half years of COVID-related strictures but O’Sullivan said his decision was not linked to the current situation in the city.

“I genuinely am just leaving because it’s the right time to go,” he said.

In fact, despite the South China Morning Post reporting as recently as April 16 that O’Sullivan had ‘quashed’ retirement talk and would be on the job next term, the HKJC’s announcement was confirmation of a rumour that had been doing the rounds at Sha Tin since early this year.

O’Sullivan said that ‘four years ago’ he was already thinking about leaving at the end of the 2021-22 season: “Then, two years ago I knew for definite,” he added.



Aerovelocity (No.9) under Zac Purton defeats Peniaphobia in the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint. (Photo by HKJC)

His stable, which has enjoyed peaks and endured troughs, currently has 34 horses – capacity 70 – as he sees out his time in Hong Kong. His 512 wins at Sha Tin and Happy Valley include a Hong Kong Derby with Vital King, Zac Purton’s first Hong Kong Group One winner, Fellowship, in the Stewards’ Cup, and a clutch of big wins onshore and off with the champion sprinter Aerovelocity.

Yet his biggest achievement, perhaps, has been managing to remain on friendly terms with all of his peers, maintaining an unwavering ‘nice guy’ approach to his life and work while navigating the hard, often ruthless Sha Tin environment for two decades.

“He’s a very good trainer, he did pretty well here and got his winners; he’s just a good lad, a good guy to have around,” said fellow trainer Caspar Fownes.

“I think he had a couple of little ‘blues’ here and there but they were water under the bridge scenarios, nothing that lasted at all. He always greets you every morning, always chirpy, always happy, just a very nice guy.”

O’Sullivan said he is ‘proud’ of being that person: “It’s very competitive here and pretty cut-throat, you know, and I never ‘stole’ a horse in my life up here: never went and said to a guy, ‘I’d like to train your horse’. It might have cost me a few winners here and there but it certainly wouldn’t have been worth it to do that. I’ve always been pretty loyal to the jockeys as well.”

Among the numerous riders he has supported are Purton, starting before the champion hit the big time, and Derek Leung, whom he guided through his apprenticeship and has continued to back.

“He a very funny man but when it comes to business he is serious,” said Leung, who rode 52 of his 399 career wins for O’Sullivan.

“I spent time with Paul before I went to New Zealand with Lance. When I walked into Paul’s stables at 16, he taught me how to shake hands. He was more than just a boss, we would talk about everything; life, finances and how I was doing. He always encouraged me to work hard and spent a lot of time with me. We would go back to his office after races and go through my rides one by one.”

“Most of all he gave me an opportunity, and he kept supporting me even after my apprenticeship had ended.”

O’Sullivan arrived as a big catch from his homeland. His reputation was built on elite success in a family team with his father, Dave O’Sullivan, and champion jockey brother Lance: 11 New Zealand trainer titles, a Japan Cup, a Cox Plate and a host of domestic majors.

Aerovelocity's farewell ceremony in 2017 (Photo by HKJC)

But his standout training achievement was Aerovelocity. The aggressive gelding climbed from five straight defeats in Class 3 under O’Sullivan’s tutelage, to become arguably the world’s best sprinter for a time.

O’Sullivan guided owner Daniel Yeung’s champion to a pair of Hong Kong Sprint wins, a Takamatsunomiya Kinen in Japan – the first overseas horse to prevail – and a KrisFlyer Sprint in Singapore.

Despite those victories, O’Sullivan considers Aerovelocity’s defeat in the Jockey Club Sprint to be prominent among his most incredible performances. The gelding was stopped twice in his run when attempting to make a winning move and finished last of 14.

“One of the best runs of his life was when he didn’t beat one home,” he said. “He missed the kick, got up along the fence and got absolutely hammered, then picked himself up, went straight back in the gap and got hammered again. He was a great warrior, that’s what he was.”

Training will ‘definitely not’ be in O’Sullivan’s future plans. He will build a house, help his brother Lance and training partner Andrew Scott with sales, and see more of the world.

“I’ll travel as much as I can. It’ll probably take me 18 months to get the house built and everything set up in New Zealand but then are you going to feel like travelling at the age of 69? Getting on a plane and going to Europe or whatever at 69? Now is definitely the right time,” he said. “I’m leaving with no regrets and more friends than enemies.”



    Subscribe now & get exclusive weekly content from Asian Racing Report direct to your inbox

      Expert ratings, tips & analysis for Hong Kong racing