The Dragon War; The Tiger Battle
1938-02-23 Wednesday, Champions Stakes, Race 8 of the Third Day of the Annual Race Meeting
Whether in Chinese or in English, anyone writing about the China races, and who remembered it, will point to the Hongkong Champions Stakes.
It was the most dramatic race ever run on the China coast.
LIBERTY BAY was back after his year’s holiday.
That he had been removed from the pari mutuel did not mean that no one wagered on him.
There was much excitement.
Eric Moller no longer rode in races. With three stalwart sons he did not have to.
1932 to late 1936. Eric Moller left for America due to the Great Depression and for his business..
George Sofronoff, working in his stable.
1938-02-21, having already won the Maidens and the Derby, Eric Moller‘s SILKYLIGHT, ridden by his son Ralph “Budgie” if he won the Champions, would gain what was known in Hongkong as the ‘triple crown’.
There are different versions of the facts and opinions:
1. Remarks by Owner Eric Moller:
Thus it was perfectly understandable that the confidence of the public should still reign supreme that LIBERTY BAY would gallop away with the Champions in accordance with his usual custom, so much was the confidence of Hongkong folks centred in their grand pony.
The Hongkong Champions! Never will I forget it in all my life! Not only was it an intensely exciting race, but veritably it was most awe-inspiring in the majesty of its momentary spectacle.
At its very commencement, SILKYLIGHT leaped away from the gate with a lead of two lengths before any other pony got started.
On former occasions it had been customary for LIBERTY BAY to start off at a great pace and never to be headed.
[This was the Leo Frost technique with this particular pony. But Buffy Maitland was riding him instead.]
On this occasion, in my opinion, the February Champions was won at the gate — because those two lengths which we gained from the very start were an invaluable asset at the finish, which indeed was a mighty and glorious one.
Finding this stranger two lengths ahead of him, LIBERTY BAY passed our pony like a whirlwind, and before the first three furlongs were done LIBERTY BAY led the whole field by about ten lengths — reaching the first mile post in 1 minute 54 seconds, which was record-breaking for the Hongkong mile distance.
It was quite noticeable that the racing public simply sat itself down to witness the usual run-in of the Champions, with LIBERTY BAY winning as he liked, and the rest of the field nowhere.
At this moment LIBERTY BAY increased his lead, so that, when passing the Black Rock, all of those watching the race were positively satisfied and confident that the customary occurrence would be witnessed once more.
But after passing the Black Rock a slight change took place in the situation, because one could see that KING’S WARDEN [Tam Pearce’s ‘Dynasty’ stable] and SILKYLIGHT were gradually commencing slightly to close the distance — but so slightly as to give no inkling of the amazing result of the actual finish which then swiftly took place.
Just before entering the straight I noticed that SILKYLIGHT’s jockey — my son, Ralph B. Moller — asked the pony for a little, and to my unbounded astonishment I saw our pony answer like an arrow from a bow, for although LIBERTY BAY entered the last quarter about nine lengths ahead of our pony, I began to see that SILKYLIGHT was gradually and appreciably lessening the distance — and then, at that critical moment, I could see our jockey take out his whip and give his mount a definite demand for more speed, and it is impossible to realize the wondrous thrill of the answer this grand animal gave to the tremendous effort thus required of him.
No one on the Members’ Stand seemed to realize for some moments what was actually happening, when all of a sudden we commenced to hear a rumble, increasing to a roar, which was coming from the faraway Public Stand where the people there could see better than we could that SILKYLIGHT, veritably and actually, was giving the hitherto unbeaten LIBERTY BAY a great race for the Champions; and as the ponies speeded along the last quarter, the shouts extended down to the Members’ Stand, and it was plain to all that a great battle was being fought out for that finish of the Champions.
It seemed as if the whole multitude of spectators stood up in their places, shouting for all they were worth, and calling upon our SILKYLIGHT to give the veteran Champion a struggle for his crown of racing triumph.
The finishing ride between that fine jockey Buffy Maitland on LIBERTY BAY, and my son Ralph on SILKYLIGHT was a truly terrific tussle during that last furlong, for both men rode out their mounts to their utmost capacity.
I was atop the Grand Stand watching the race through my glasses, and I noticed SILKYLIGHT come up and along with his head just about abaft the neck of LIBERTY BAY — and then our pony staggered, and I verily feared he had given his best and final effort, failing just short of victory.
But no! My boy, Ralph, gave him two cuts asking the great-hearted animal to come again, and the pony promptly responded nobly, and then, to the astonishment of all present, SILKYLIGHT streaked past the old Champion, LIBERTY BAY, winning his race comfortably by about a length and a half.”
2. Remarks about Other Reporters:
LIBERTY BAY forged ahead of the others in approaching the gate and was caught under the chin as the gate went up, lifting it up on its haunches.
The thousands of spectators watching the start of the Champions were given an early thrill
KING’S WARDEN immediately took the lead when the three horses were eventually started.
LIBERTY BAY, which secured a three lengths lead before rounding the first bend, overhauled KING’S WARDEN.
LIBERTY BAY maintained this lead and increased it to four lengths before reaching the Rock.
SILKYLIGHT, however broke away from KING’S WARDEN just before the last bend was reached, and on entering the straight.
The result left little doubt as to which was the better pony.
3. Remarks by Chinese writer:
1970-05-15, Shen Wei-chuang, also known as Shum Kut Shing with pseudonym “Lo Kut” wrote a column
This was the running: LIBERTY BAY led the way as usual and followed by SILKYLIGHT. Mr Heare underestimated the enemy and he did not want to win by many lengths so he did not let LIBERTY BAY to run too fast and led by big margin. Heare planned to win SILKYLIGHT by a neck or half to show LIBERTY BAY‘s majectic status. However, his over-confidence ruined LIBERTY BAY‘s undefeated champion honors, once and for all.
That was the most ideal pacing for Ralph B. Moller did not want LIBERTY BAY broke away too far so he could follow it tightly instead. So Ralph just hold a bit near the final 30 to 40 yards to trick Heare that SILKYLIGHT used up his stamina.
Heare was so relaxed and expecting an easy win while Ralph suddenly drove his mount in full force at this critical moment as by his tactic. SILKYLIGHT challenged strongly under successive whipping and LIBERTY BAY was unable to withstand it. Amidst a tremendous roar SILKYLIGHT passed its opponent to win by a head.
1938, after The Champion Stakes, there were lots of anecdotes about :
– a rumor that Mr Maitland was so arrogant and over-confident that cost him the race.
1938-02-23 Champions race was run in 2 minutes 24 and two-fifths seconds, and this on a somewhat heavy course with shoes on.
By a happy fortuity it was one of the most important races ever run in China.
More has probably been written about it than about any other China race.
Years later — after the Second World War — accounts of it, mainly Chinese, given by those who remembered it and were there, accord with private English accounts putting Buffy Maitland’s defeat down to overconfidence.
It may have been; but from Eric Moller’s description it does not sound like it, as in his own words:
“On this occasion, in my opinion, the February Champions was won at the gate —
because those two lengths which we gained from the very start were an invaluable asset at the finish, which indeed was a mighty and glorious one.”
The Victory Prove
SILKYLIGHT had won the ‘triple crown’.
He went on to a notable future.
SILKYLIGHT and CONFUSION BAY, [instead of LIBERTY BAY which had been withdrawn from racing since the Champion Stakes], another duel would be witnessed over the 1-3/4 mile course.
Mr. Eric Moller, owner of SILKYLIGHT and one of Shanghai‘s most successful stables, arrived Hong Kong for the meeting to witness the main event of the day.
1938-11-19 SILKYLIGHT won the Hongkong St. Leger in a record 3 minutes 29 and three-fifths seconds.
HKJC guarantees to the successful bettor a profit of at least 10 cents; and this has occasionally left the Club paying out more than is in the net pool —
as when that great unbeatable, LIBERTY BAY, was racing.