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Having helped each trainer he has served to a career-high of some sort, and handled two notoriously difficult stars, Pierre Ng is now searching for his own life-changing champion.
There are no unforgiving surfaces within the Sha Tin stable compound and every morning at 4.30am, Paul O’Sullivan would want to cover his eyes after he legged assistant trainer Pierre Ng aboard the 550-kilogram coiled spring that was sprinter Aerovelocity.
“They had a routine, Pierre would go get on him at the same time each morning and he would get on and go tearing off, cantering down the road sideways, I didn’t even want to look at them,” O’Sullivan said.
“But Pierre is a fantastic horsman, he would just go with the flow with Aerovelocity. His philosophy was that if that is what the horse enjoys doing, just let him do it.”
Aerovelocity’s on-track exploits will live long in the memories of racing fans but another lasting image of the horse is Ng hanging off the aggressive sprinter in the pre-race parade ring.
Ng recalls that image of running alongside Aerovelocity – who won Group 1s in Japan and Singapore – with a wry laugh, “He might be the most dangerous horse I experienced in the parade ring,” Hong Kong’s newest local trainer says ahead of Sunday’s season opener at Sha Tin.
“But when you sat on him you just knew you were sitting on a warrior, and that he would fight. You have to have special hands to handle him, otherwise you will get injured or you will be losing a race because he will get injured and be home in the box on raceday. It was all about handling him safely.”
Through Aerovelocity, and more recently Hong Kong’s two-time horse of the year Golden Sixty – whom he handled as assistant for Francis Lui – Ng knows the momentum a champion horse can bring to a stable, and that equine talent sometimes comes with baggage.
More than three decades before Aerovelocity was terrorising stable staff another quirky horse called Quicken Away was dominating for Ng’s father Peter.
Perhaps the only reason Peter Ng was able to secure his horse of a lifetime was because the grey was such a headcase.
Like his son, Ng had spent time working under overseas trainers, mostly in Ireland and most notably under Dermot Weld and it was through contacts at the trainer’s Rosewell House yard that the trainer was able to acquire Quicken Away, the versatile sprinter-miler.
“I knew the staff there, and I got some information that he was very temperamental,” Peter says. “He would throw riders in the morning, that is why they tried to get rid of him. He was a difficult horse to ride and he would drop riders. He was a character, I tell you. He would buck, spin, do things quickly; one minute you were sitting on him, the next moment you were on the ground. He was a difficult horse to ride, but I had him castrated and he calmed down.”
Ng senior’s off-season trips to Ireland continued long into his career and Pierre would tag along, continuing his education on horseback.
“Pierre wanted to be a jockey when he was young, and each off-season I would take him to Ireland. He would go to pony school just outside Dublin,” Peter says. “Back in Hong Kong, from when Pierre was eight, we would go to the Jockey Club’s Beas River riding school every weekend.”
By the time Pierre hit adolescence a growth spurt meant the dreams of being a jockey were dashed, but even if he wanted to join his father’s stable after returning from completing a university degree in Sydney, he would need to make a serious sacrifice to become a trackwork rider.
Pierre weighed 95 kilograms (210 pounds) at the time and through diet and exercise got down to 67kg (147 pounds) in order to be able to ride horses in trackwork.
Peter was impressed at the commitment but also what his son brought to his yard, “He did everything in the stable,” he says.
Pierre brought energy and new ideas but the magnetism of a great horse cuts both ways; if you don’t have a flagship horse in Hong Kong, owners can quickly flee what they see as a sinking ship. And by the time father and son worked together in 2006, Quicken Away was long gone and the veteran trainer was sailing perilously close to the rocks. He had low stable numbers, was barely reaching minimum benchmarks and averaged 13 wins per season for the first four years the pair teamed up.
“That was a very difficult situation … so many ups and downs,” Pierre says. “But I learnt a lot from it: how to rebound and get more support, build the win tally. It was a very good experience, but I promised myself I would never be in that situation ever again.
“It’s not about getting out of that hole, it is about not getting into it to start with.”
By the final two seasons of Peter’s career, with Pierre as assistant, the wily veteran had crawled out of the ditch and his final season brought a career-high 34 wins.
The pattern of stables hitting a career-high would continue through O’Sullivan, who went from averaging 15 wins per season for three years before his new assistan’s arrival to averaging 35 winners in four seasons with Ng as second-in-charge.
“He is not just an absolute quality horseman and great at handling horses, but very hard working and smart,” O’Sullivan says of the new trainer that he treats “like a nephew”.
“When he got the opportunity to go to John Size and he went with my absolute blessing.”
Pierre’s stint with the 11-time champion – a trainer whose previous two ‘ATs’, Benno Yung and Frankie Lor had been granted licenses – was a whistlestop two-season stint, but coincided with a golden crop of Size-trained sprinters and a new Hong Kong prizemoney record in 2017-18.
“He is the master,” Pierre says of Size. “In that short period of time I watched how he wants the horse to be – their attitude, getting them in the right mindset, and getting them fit.
“That, for me, is like an art. You can’t explain it. He just has the eye.”
Then there is the work ethic: “Early to start, leaves late, every day is a long day for him,” Ng adds.
The final stop on Ng’s impressive climb through the ranks was with Francis Lui, who rose from mid-table to championship contender, hitting his own career-highs with the new assistant, and finding the horse of a lifetime in Golden Sixty.
Ng took on the role of primary conditioner under Lui, rounding out his readiness for being top trainer.
“I was making sure the horses were fit and well, getting the product ready for him whenever he wanted to press the button,” Ng says. “I was fortunate to have Franics’ trust.”
“I was also lucky to meet Golden Sixty,” he adds. “I learnt a lot from him. He is not a straightforward horse … he is quite dangerous. He would try and bite you in the stable, and at trackwork he is naughty … he enjoys being by himself and doesn’t want to be around the other horses. Those top level horses’ characters can be like that. They just don’t want to share. He is very special, it’s hard to find a horse like that.”
Asked which trainer he would try and emulate in style, the 38-year-old Ng says it has been more case of cherry-picking the best qualities of each of the handlers he has served under – as well as working under Chris Waller, David Hayes and Mick Price in Australia, and in the United States and Japan on his own off-season trips.
“When you learn from somebody, you see their good and bad,” he says. “Rather than trying to copy, you just try and pick up the good qualities of every single one of them and try it out in your way, to be in your style.”
Like a young Size, Ng is spending considerable time in the saddle as trainer, “Gallop days, I would rather watch, but I enjoy doing slow work,” he says. “I can get a feel for where they are up to, how fit they are and if they are developing any bad habits.”
The new trainer will have his own trusted lieutenant in good friend Paul Lo, who worked with O’Sullivan since Ng’s departure, and he has garnered strong support from owners familiar with his success.
When you learn from somebody, you see their good and bad.
O’Sullivan’s retirement and Ng’s incredible record as AT meant an inundation of transfers, he has eight runners at the season opener while fellow first-year trainer Jamie Richards’ has none.
Still, the rookie has tried to resist the sugar hit of older horses that can bring early results but lead to a second-season come down: he has not filled up on empty calories and has left room for growth through fresh blood.
“Out of my 60 horses, I’m aiming to have around 10 to 12 Private Purchase Griffins (unraced) and 15 Private Purchases (tried imports) … I am pretty confident with them, they look like they have some ability and the owners really have shown me a lot of support,” he says.
It is unlikely that there is a horse like Aerovelocity, Quicken Away or Golden Sixty among those newcomers, but if there is anything Ng has learned along the way, it is that you just never know where that life-changing horse might come from, or when.
“When a horse arrives on the first day you have to treat them like they are special,” he says. “You just have to be careful, make sure they are safe and make sure they eat well. You never know, they might be the one.”
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