Racing a Pursuit of Passion For Chan

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Marc Chan | Courtesy Marc Chan

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Racehorse owner Marc Chan saw his silks in the spotlight not once, but twice last week at Glorious Goodwood when Angel Bleu (Fr) (Dark Angel {Ire}) and Kinross (GB) (Kingman {GB}) supplied a significant Tuesday double in the G2 Vintage S. and G2 Lennox S. And while the rise of Chan–an owner in Britain for just a year–to the pinnacle of the sport seems to have happened suddenly, it is in fact the apex of a lifelong passion that was sparked when Chan started going to the races with his father at just 10 years of age in his native Malaysia.

“That was out of this world,” Chan said three days removed from his Goodwood accomplishment, recalling how he watched the races live from home in Hong Kong thanks to the Hong Kong Jockey Club's World Pool. “We had hoped for a winner in one of the Group 2 races, but we never would have been close to thinking we could get a double there.”

Chan, a tech entrepreneur and private equity investor, has raced horses in Hong Kong for close to a decade and later added a string in Australia, where he currently has a small handful of horses in training with the Hayes family at Lindsay Park. Over the past year he has built up a small but highly successful stable in Europe largely with trainer Ralph Beckett; New Mandate (Ire) (New Bay {GB}) brought him near immediate stakes success last year when winning the Listed Flying Scotsman S. and G2 Royal Lodge S. after being purchased privately. Chan likewise has four 2-year-olds in training in America: two in California with Paddy Gallagher and a pair on the East Coast with Graham Motion and Brad Cox.

Chan was bitten by the racing bug as a child in Malaysia, when his father and grandfather took him to the races in Kuala Lumpur.

“My grandfather and my father were racing fans and they loved to punt-they were big time punters back then,” Chan recalled. “So I was exposed to horses back then when I was very young. I still remember all the jockeys' names, the trainers' names; back then you had Ivan Allen, who was a legendary trainer. Even today when I talk to the trainers and agents in England they all remember that he was a maestro.”

Chan later relocated to Canada to attend the University of Western Ontario, where he obtained an engineering degree and lived and worked in the greater Toronto area. While his passion for racing largely took a backseat to his business interests at that stage, his proximity to Woodbine Racetrack–and to the Canadian paddocks that have had such a profound influence on the global Thoroughbred breed–kept him on the hook.

When Chan relocated to Hong Kong in 1991, he found himself immersed in yet another locale with a vibrant racing culture, albeit highly contrasting with the wide open spaces of Canada. Some 20 years later, he at last leapt into the business of racehorse ownership and pursued his passion for horses.

“About seven or eight years ago, my dad had come over from Malaysia and he was watching the racing on TV and he my wife were punting on it,” Chan said. “So I said, 'hey, why don't we get more involved in this beyond just punting and own a horse in Hong Kong?' So that's when we applied to be a Jockey Club member and to get a permit for a horse.

“I also took up riding at the Hong Kong Jockey Club riding school. They have a private riding school at the Beas River Equestrian Center where you can ride the retired racehorses. I always loved horses but had never got around to [learning to ride]. I had always wanted to own a farm and be close to horses, so I went to the farm that is owned by the Jockey Club in Hong Kong and was able to get close to them and go riding there.”

Chan has enjoyed success as an owner in Hong Kong at a moderate but respectable level with Class 3 and 4 horses, and he and his wife currently have three horses in training in Hong Kong and are involved with one in a syndicate. A few years ago, while searching for European horses to import and aim for the Hong Kong Derby, Chan was introduced to Jamie McCalmont and Frankie Dettori.

“They began to help me look for horses for the Hong Kong Derby, and I told them I was interested not only in racing in Hong Kong but that I'd like to get global with my racing,” Chan explained.

Among the earlier purchases were The Summit (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}) and Tsar (GB) (Kingman {GB}). The former had won the G3 Prix de Fontainebleau and finished second in the G1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains for trainer Henri-Alex Pantall before Chan scooped him up, after which he was second to Mishriff (Ire) (Make Believe {GB}) in both the G1 Prix du Jockey Club and G2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano before joining trainer David Hayes in Hong Kong. The Summit ran three times in Hong Kong over the 2020/21 season and is currently on his way back from a minor injury.

Tsar is a Juddmonte-bred who won three times over a mile for John Gosden and was gelded and sent to trainer Me Tsui. Though he didn't make the cut for the Hong Kong Derby, he has been gradually improving and won a Happy Valley handicap on May 26. “He's doing well and is a very classy horse,” Chan said.

Around the same time the deals were done for The Summit and Tsar, Chan was also completing the paperwork for New Mandate, who had won at third asking at Sandown by 2 1/2 lengths. The $35,000 yearling had been gelded prior to the start of his racing career, a fact that would have automatically struck him off the list of a certain sector of purchasers shopping the private market. Not so for Chan, however, whose membership with the Hong Kong Jockey Club gives him a viable outlet for horses without breeding potential. New Mandate justified Chan's faith almost immediately, winning the Flying Scotsman within weeks of his purchase and the Royal Lodge two weeks after that, both under Chan's pal Dettori. The latter victory earned New Mandate a trip to the Breeders' Cup, giving Chan a first runner at that prestigious meeting in his first year of ownership in Britain. It wasn't to be at Keeneland, however; New Mandate blew all chance early when breaking a step slow and then pulling hard under Dettori, burning himself out in the preliminaries. With the prospect of a lengthy career ahead of him, New Mandate underwent minor knee surgery over the winter and was not fully race fit when beating just three home in the G3 Jersey S. at Royal Ascot.

“He has run just once this year and he really wasn't ready, he was just getting back into the rhythm so we're looking to run him in Europe in the coming months,” Chan explained.

Chan's immediate rapport with Beckett surely gave him added confidence when the trainer last winter presented him with another horse in his yard. Kinross had made a memorable impression when winning by eight lengths on debut at Newmarket at the back end of his 2-year-old campaign, earning the 'TDN Rising Star' tag. Things had gone somewhat pear-shaped thereafter, however, for the Julian Richmond-Watson homebred, who was off the board in his next five starts before winning the Listed Hyde S. on the Kempton all-weather last November. Chan swooped in to purchase him after that victory, and after a pair of lacklustre efforts back on the turf at Meydan over the winter, he was gelded. He has since elevated his form to a new level, going two-for-two since the operation in the G3 John of Gaunt S. in May and last week's Lennox. His long-term target this campaign is the G1 Prix de la Foret.

“Ralph had said the horse had a lot of potential, but he had some issues that needed to be unlocked,” Chan said. “The horse had been underperforming so I was willing to take a chance with the much-reduced value of the horse, and hopefully we'd find the key to unlock his potential. We went through a few experiments to get to where we are today. Ralph probably has his own version of it, which might be much better than mine, but I think the gelding helped him a lot.”

One who looks likely to stay an entire, at least for now, is Angel Bleu, who increased his stud value markedly with last week's Vintage score under Dettori. That was the sixth run of his campaign and remarkably came just three days after he finished second in the Listed Pat Eddery S. at Ascot. Angel Bleu was almost handed a very different path, with the immediate post-race verdict of the Pat Eddery being that he should be gelded and sent to Hong Kong, but when the horse came bouncing out of his box in the following days, Beckett devised a new plan.

“He came out of the race very fresh,” Chan said. “Ralph Beckett called me and said, 'I'd like to run him again.' I said, 'ok, sure, you are the commander in chief, you know best what to do with the horse.' It sounded 'wow' to me, but he said the horse was full of energy and had only had a warm-up run at Ascot.

“I like that kind of thought process from the trainers, when they think outside the box and don't do the traditional, standard procedures all the time. Sometimes you have to try different things.”

Angel Bleu represents the next generation of Chan colourbearers sourced at auction. While the global pandemic has kept him away from the European and American races and sales-a fact he would like to remedy soon-Chan found himself drawn to a Dark Angel colt with unusual colouring at last year's Deauville Select Sale who also happened to be a close relative to Galileo's highest earning runner Highland Reel (Ire).

“We came across this horse and I liked the pedigree and the physical,” Chan said. “The horse has a very special colour to him–he's gray but he doesn't look gray. He's a very special mix of colour.”

Chan has 12 2-year-olds in training across Europe and America, and among those is the most high-profile yearling sold last year by Angel Bleu's relative Highland Reel, the half-brother to champion miler Palace Pier (GB) (Kingman {GB}) who has joined his brother at the yard of John and Thady Gosden and has been named Highland Frolic (GB). He was a 320,000gns purchase from Book 1 of the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale last year, but Chan is not yet putting him up on a pedestal any higher than his other unraced juveniles.

“Hopefully he'll turn out to be good, but sometimes it's hard to tell,” he said. “All these half-brother, half-sister stories can turn out to be a mirage dream.”

Chan has an arsenal of well-bred juveniles preparing to make their debuts. He points to a full-brother to G3 Earl Of Sefton S. winner Steel Of Madrid (Ire) (Lope De Vega {Ire}) named Cresta De Vega (Ire) as one to watch, and is also looking forward to Northern Aurora, a Canadian-bred son of Uncle Mo bought by agent Kelsey Lupo's Atlas Bloodstock for $210,000 at Keeneland September last year. Northern Aurora, who is in training with Graham Motion, is named for the small town of Lucan, Ontario, where he was bred and foaled and where Chan himself lived for four years while at university.

Chan meanwhile also has his sights set on the next phase of expansion of his stable into the breeding sphere.

“That's where we'll be heading when some of our fillies have retired,” Chan confirmed. “That's why we have a number of fillies in Europe, like Valeria Messalina (Ire) (Holy Roman Emperor {Ire}) with Jessie Harrington-she was supposed to run at Goodwood too but Jessie felt the ground wasn't right for her so she scratched. We have some fillies in the U.S., too, so hopefully we'll turn those into very good broodmares. I'd like to venture into breeding; I'm very fascinated by the breeding industry, but I'll be doing this mainly for myself, not commercially. I plan to breed to race rather than breed to sell.”

It isn't out of the question, either, that Chan could further expand his racing arm into Japan. He has businesses based in Hokkaido, Japan's power-packed breeding capital, and said ownership in Japan is something he is considering.

“I'm still weighing my options as to whether I want to dive into that,” he explained. “It's a very different culture and there is a language barrier, but I have friends who have horses there and they could partner with me or introduce me to the trainers and the industry there. I have friends who live in Hong Kong who have horses in Japan and also some friends from Tokyo who bring their horses to Hong Kong to compete in the international races. So I'm thinking about that, but I need to think clearly about how I'd be able to manage it.”

With an infectious enthusiasm for the industry to go hand-in-hand with his proven track record of success, Chan certainly seems to have unlimited potential when it comes to the global game of horse racing.

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