A proud man who should be known for his philanthropy as much as his racehorses
Popular US-based agent Marie Yoshida remembers her long-time friend and client, prominent Hong Kong owner Howard Liang, as a proud Chinese man who should be known for his philanthropy as much as the numerous high-class racehorses who sported his yellow and red silks.
Educational investor Liang died in Hong Kong on Wednesday after a long illness, just ten days after his current star, the Tony Cruz-trained Group 1 winner California Spangle, caused a major upset in the Sha Tin Trophy (Gr 2, 1600m). Liang was 68.
Known for racing his “California”-monikered horses, including numerous in Australia with Peter and Paul Snowden such as dual Group 3-winning filly California Zimbol (I Am Invincible), Liang previously raced the US-bred California Memory, the 2012 Hong Kong Cup (Gr 1, 2000m) winner.
Yoshida described Liang, who she had first met in 1993, as a generous and kind man whose willingness to rally around a cause was evident when Covid swept around the world in early 2020.
It was then, Yoshida said, that Liang pledged to support the Australian thoroughbred breeders at a time of crisis, insisting that the 2020 Inglis’ Australian Easter Yearling Sale should proceed just as the pandemic was setting in.
The Australian breeders were in a state of flux and Inglis was unsure about what to do given the sale could not be staged in its traditional manner because people or horses were not allowed to attend Riverside Stables in Sydney in early April of that year.
But with Liang’s backing, breeders such as Widden’s Antony Thompson, Segenhoe’s Peter O’Brien, Coolmore’s Tom Magnier and Newgate Farm’s Henry Field collectively decided to press ahead with the virtual auction, comforted that the owner and other international buyers had given assurances that they would be participating.
Completing the first of what would be three stints in hotel quarantine in Australia in order to attend the Inglis and Magic Millions sales, Yoshida inspected Easter yearlings in the Hunter Valley in late March 2020 on behalf of Liang before returning to Kentucky for the virtual auction.
“This is one of the most extraordinary things I remember about Mr Liang in giving the support to the Australian industry during Covid and at that critical moment in March 2020 to make sure the Inglis Easter sale was going to be OK and reassuring that everybody get behind the sale,” Yoshida told us from the US yesterday.
“I was in Kentucky, the team was in Hong Kong and we were following the sale and it worked.”
Liang purchased three yearlings at the virtual sale, spending $1.49 million, and another two at the 2021 Magic Millions sale for a combined $930,000.
Liang’s generosity also extended beyond his beloved racing industry.
In late 2004, Liang and 19 members of his extended family survived the devastating Boxing Day tsunami in Phuket, Thailand, and he was forever grateful to the Thai people for their support during and after the devastating natural disaster.
“Our two boats were crushed to pieces and we were separated,” Liang recalled in 2019. “Luckily waves carried me to an island, where local people helped evacuate me and other survivors to a high area where the tsunami waves could not reach.”
That experience prompted Liang and his family to open the Verso international school in Thana City near Suvarnabhumi Airport in Thailand.
Meanwhile, Yoshida said California Zimbol, a half-sister to stakes winners From Within (Not A Single Doubt) and Cruden Bay (Not A Single Doubt), was one of Liang’s favourite horses to have raced in Australia for him.
Fairway Thoroughbreds’ John Camilleri bought the now seven-year-old mare privately from Liang.
Yoshida said: “Mr Howard Liang didn’t do things by halves. He was a visionary and if he couldn’t have California Zimbol as a broodmare, he made sure she was in good hands.”
Liang is survived by his wife Luanna and his three daughters Chloe, Charis and Charmian and their son Chester.
The Snowdens have nine “California” horses in the stable at present who are under the ownership of Chester Liang.
Inglis managing director Mark Webster at least twice in the past decade has approached rival auction house Magic Millions and its owner Gerry Harvey about merging the respective companies’ two-year-old sales.
We are told Harvey swiftly rejected the proposals and Inglis went about reinvigorating its Ready2Race Sale, in part, by pitching to New Zealand vendors and a focus on increasing the quality of the catalogue.
Graduate success helped as well and Inglis was probably the winner of the two during the pandemic, able to attract a deep Hong Kong buying bench to its Sydney sale and some strong sales results, while Magic Millions played a cautious approach in the lending of credit to vendors to eliminate the risk of accruing big losses as much as possible.
But this year, as the economy took a turn for the worse and Singapore and Macau dropped out of the market, the Inglis and Magic Millions breeze-up sales were, on the whole, tough going if you were a vendor or an investor brave enough to venture into the yearling-into-two-year-old pinhook scene.
Of course, there were vendors who did very well at both sales, as is always the case, but there are others who will have to trade their way out of it after copping a financial battering on many horses at the two-year-old sales this year, widely regarded as the toughest format compared to weanling and yearling sales.
At the Inglis and Magic Millions two-year-old sales this month, $15.9 million was traded on 184 horses, the lowest gross since 2015, according to this publication’s By The Numbers column, and the smallest number of horses since both auction houses first went head-to-head in 2013.
So, then, what’s the future of the two-year-old sales format in Australia?
There seemed to be less crossover between Inglis and Magic Millions’ buying benches this year, with the prospect of purchasers, particularly from Hong Kong, having to travel twice to Australia within a fortnight proving a task many were unwilling to undertake.
Peter Ng, the father of Hong Kong-based trainer Pierre, was at both sales while Wattle Bloodstock’s Peter Twomey, trainer Jason Warren and Kiwi Simon Dunderdale, a trainer in Malaysia, were participants in Sydney and on the Gold Coast.
However, Magus Equine’s Willie Leung and Hong Kong-based trainers Mark Newnham and Ricky Yiu and a suite of Australian trainers were among those who made the choice just to attend the Inglis sale. There were a host of trainers who also just bought at this week’s Magic Millions offering.
For the auction houses, the costs of flying in buyers to a sale largely dependent on international buyers is not a cheap exercise – airfares aren’t getting any cheaper – and any sale could always do with more competition, but often it comes down to a return on investment as to who gets the flights and accommodation paid for.
Combining the Magic Millions and Inglis sales would obviously reduce those costs, with buyers only having to come to Australia once, but I am of the belief that a merger is not on the cards any time soon with both companies unlikely to entertain such a thought.
What has been floated – and Tom Reilly will probably disagree – is that the 0.385 per cent levy charged on each sale of a horse at auction at a two-year-old sale that helps fund Thoroughbred Breeders Australia and its marketing arm Aushorse is redirected to Inglis and Magic Millions to help them bring in more buyers.
This year, it would be a tick over $61,000 to be split between both companies.
We’re leaving New Zealand Bloodstock and its two-day format out of this discussion for the moment. More will be evident after its 2023 sale is conducted at Karaka in just short of four weeks’ time.
Last Saturday in New Zealand Savabeel colt Savaglee went some way to justifying the belief – and the $400,000 price tag – that The Oaks Stud’s Rick Williams had in the horse as a yearling.
The colt showed vastly superior speed to score over 900 metres at Trentham at his first start, blitzing his rivals by four lengths and convincing co-trainer Pam Gerard to map out a plan towards January’s Karaka Million (1200m).
Williams bought just one horse at Karaka in 2023, trying to hit the jackpot with a colt capable of compiling a race record which could see him retire to Dick Karreman’s The Oaks Stud and match up well with the farm’s plethora of mares by the pensioned champion sire Darci Brahma (Danehill).
In January, Williams told us: “He is an earlier type, he’s bred on that magic Savabeel-O’Reilly cross, so let’s see if he’s that good horse, but that’s the dream.
“We’ve always tried to look at another stallion and buying them off the track nowadays is probably beyond us, so we’ll have a punt on a yearling like everyone else here and hope the dream comes true.
“We thought he was a bit of a sharper type and I think within 12 months we’ll know if we’ve got something or not.”
Rick’s got the first part right with the horse winning as an October juvenile and, after the horse’s Trentham success, Gerard indicated that Savaglee would spend just seven days in the paddock.
“I think he’s the type of colt that will benefit by continuing to tick over so we’ll plan a few more races for him,” Gerard said. “He’s very professional, fast, and has done everything right so far as a two-year-old colt.
“He’s probably exceeded my expectations a bit in the way that he won. He hasn’t been off the bridle yet, so, yes, it’s pretty encouraging to see him win in that manner.”