HONG KONG HEROES / PRIDE OF HONG KONG: SILENT WITNESS
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The SILENT WITNESS fairy tale unfurled in 2003 at a time when Hong Kong needed a light to shine down on a city under a depressing cloud brought on by the SARS epidemic- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
It was a very stressful time where even the thought of venturing outdoors was fraught with anxiety, offices closed due to news of someone in the building having contacted the disease while people watched television for the latest news, and walked around wearing masks.
The tourism sector was crippled, and, along with it, the image of Hong Kong, the city, and its people almost being seen as lepers on air-flights and when trying to enter other countries.
And then, there was SILENT WITNESS, a champion galloper that was all heart and offered many what was much needed at the time - hope and a much-needed break from the enemy and terror within.
Like SEABISCUIT had given America something to cheer during the Depression Era - a broken down horse that combined with a broken jockey - to create history with its incredible heart and winning spirit. Prayers were answered when the combination of SILENT WITNESS, trainer Tony Cruz, jockey Felix Coetzee and owners Archie and Betty Da Silva, came around just at the right time to lift the spirits of Hong Kong.
SILENT WITNESS was a free show for Hong Kong every time he ran - and so was owner Archie Da Silva who screamed, cried and cheered his horse home oblivious to the television cameras and press photographers capturing his every mood. It was raw emotion and great to see on a race track.
Tony Cruz had ridden the mighty CO-TACK when Hong Kong's Champion Jockey, and though not, in any way, playing down that horse's exploits, SILENT WITNESS, he says, was the better horse in a different era, and with those 17 consecutive wins to his name. "SILENT WITNESS lifted the spirit of the Hong Kong people," he says. "He brought non-race-goers to the races just to see him win. He hated to lose. "Even when going down to the barriers before a race, we had to take him out last. The first few times we took him out with the other horses, he wanted to race them." He was an amazing horse- extremely competitive, just kept improving all the time, and his confidence filled us with confidence".
While the great South African jockey Felix Coetzee rode the great horse to his 17 consecutive victories, those at the Sha Tin Racecourse were riding it with him. When Felix would say to his partner, "Okay, pal, enough of this playing around, let's show them who's the boss", SILENT WITNESS would always find another gear.
"Man, he was a very intelligent horse, he had such a heightened sense of awareness of everything around him", says Coetzee, certainly one of the most popular jockeys to ride in Hong Kong. "When we worked him, he would be the last one onto the training track as he just wanted to get out there and show everyone that he was The Man. He was a Rock Star and he knew it. I have never known a horse like him. Never will".
According to TIME, the gelding was named "one of the 24 people that mattered most in 2004â€³. Named The World's Champion Sprinter in 2003, 2004 and 2005, SILENT WITNESS became the first Hong Kong horse to win in Japan by taking out the Group 1 Sprinters Stakes in 2005.
His world-beating run ended at the Champion's Mile in Hong Kong in 2005, when he was beaten into second place by a short head by local rival BULLISH LUCK. SILENT WITNESS just lost going for a record-breaking eighteenth win. "I was gutted when he lost," says Coetzee. "He still wanted to go into the winner's enclosure as he had always done. I had to tell him, â€˜Not this time, old friend'".
Winning streaks always come to an end, but SILENT WITNESS had given Hong Kong something to cheer when there was only gloom and doom around.
SILENT WITNESS, known affectionately as "Spirit of Hong Kong", might have still been willing to dazzle his fans but sadly they were not treated to a vintage display as Felix Coetzee, the jockey who rode the horse to a record 17 straight wins, brought him home to a second-from-last finish in ultimately his last race, the Centenary Sprint Cup at Sha Tin. TV images showed the Australian-bred seven-year-old's charismatic managing owner Archie Da Silva leaving the trackside in tears.
Tests taken after this dismal and lackluster performance brought about a diagnosis of a rare degenerative and chronic illness in his hind leg joints curtailing a glorious career that smashed numerous world records leading to his premature retirement in February of 2007.
SILENT WITNESS became the legend of Hong Kong racing, drawing thunderous cheers and cries from the crowd every time he appeared on the track. He raced 29 times, with 18 wins and a total of over AUD $9,000,000 in prize money. His accomplishments are staggering: SILENT WITNESS was crowned Horse of the Year twice, in 2003/2004 and 2004/2005, and was named to Time Magazine's Top 100 in 2005. For the three years from 2003 to 2005, the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities in Paris ranked SILENT WITNESS the world's fastest sprinter. Also in 2005, he was announced the world's top sprinter on turf. On April 24 2005, SILENT WITNESS won his 17th consecutive race, the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup. Tackling 1400 meters for the first time, SILENT WITNESS broke the record of 16 consecutive wins established by the American champion CIGAR.
SILENT WITNESS was retired after his last race of February 4, 2007; he was given a brilliant send off as he proudly trotted by his huge fan club one final time before being flown back to his birth place of Australia for a well-deserved luxury retirement at, "Living Legends: The International Home of Rest for Champion Race Horses", in Victoria. "He now enjoys his well-earned rest", says owner Archie Da Silva, "He deserves nothing less".
(1 Hour and 48 Minutes)
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|Category:||Japanese & Hong Kong Racing|