I recently sat down with one of Fiorente’s owners, a bloke named Barry Pang. He is Bruce Lee’s cousin, and the man who introduced Kung Fu to Australia. He is also the major owner of a good horse named Pornichet which is about to return to racing in Sydney.
Have a watch of this video, then please have a read of the below interview. It is a cracker!
- With a few minutes of internet research, one can discover that you are listed as a ‘Chinese Australian.’ But with a name like Barry, it seems fair to assume that perhaps you are a born and bred Australian with Chinese parents. Do you have any idea why your parents moved to Australia? Were you in fact born in Australia?
Yes I was most definitely born in Australia. Both my parents are from Canton, which is a province in Southern China. Back when my parents lived there (just before WWII) there was very limited opportunity throughout the villages. Australia was known to the Chinese at the time as ‘the big gold mountain,’ based on the stories of those who had returned from the gold rush during the mid-19th century. It was the land of opportunity and my parents made their way down to seek a better life.
- Growing up during the height of the Cold War (China of course being a relatively hard line Communist nation during the 20th century), how did the other kids at primary school take to a boy that looked a little different?
At the start I was a little bit intimidated, but in the end, I was just one of plenty who had to injure an initiation of sorts. I was perhaps lucky, because while I looked different and was certainly the only Chinese boy at my school, there were plenty of Jewish kids from Poland, Hungary and other European nations. It was quite a multicultural school and eventually we all had our groups of friends. Football and cricket ruled the school yard as they still do today and participation was the key. You earned respect from your school mates based on your performance at lunchtime! Before too long the other kids had no problem with me being the only Chinese student. I actually have a couple of school reunions coming up soon. I certainly don’t have any racially related emotional scars from my time at school in Australia.
- During your young days, it is hard to imagine that the bullies and the ignorant people would have made a distinction between a Chinese boy and a Japanese boy, despite the fact that China and Japan were World War II enemies. Did growing up after World War II in a nation that had fought doggedly against Japan add to any racial vilification you may have experienced?
Yes. Most Australians could not tell the difference between the Japanese, the Koreas and the Chinese. It was mostly in the street and not at school, but yes I did experience little bit of the ‘nip nip nip’ calls from strangers (mostly adults), but again the kids generally welcomed me for who I was rather than how I looked. At the time, you are right, the Chinese had just fought a fierce set of battles with Japan as Australia did. Just because both nations were made up of Asian people that looked similar, it does not mean they were the same in terms of ideology, political views or anything really. Japan and China were mortal enemies in WWII.
- Of all the people I have interviewed, you are definitely the first to have been related to the legendary Bruce Lee! Can you explain your family’s connection with the iconic film star?
Canton was full of hundreds of little villages. Clan villages. The surnames that you still hear today like Lee, Chan, Wong and so on made up the clans and thus the villages. Bruce Lee’s father grew up two doors down from my mother. Lee’s father and my mother were also second cousins (my mother was a member of the Lee clan). So we have a neighbourhood relationship and a family connection. Bruce Lee was an inspiration to all Chinese people, especially those who left China for the United States and Australia.
- Apart from being a Melbourne Cup winning owner, you are probably best known throughout Australia as a martial arts expert. Can you tell us how you got into martial arts, what branch you specialise in and a little about your business?
In the 1960s all our Chinese heroes in our children’s comic books specialised in Kung Fu. Then there were the Bond movies. While there were plenty of fast cars, leggy woman and gun fights, there also were a lot of hand to hand Kung Fu fighting scenes. As a young boy, this is how I gathered an interest in the sport. Once I finished University, I came back from Hong Kong and had no employment. A friend said I should teach Kung Fu. Now please let me clarify. Kung Fu is Chinese for ‘Martial Arts.’ There are therefore many different styles and facets of Kung Fu. The Japanese martial arts all have independent names, but the Chinese wanted to keep their styles secret especially from the Japanese. I just wanted to practice when I returned from Hong Kong, but I was persuaded to start teaching and because of the secrecy that surrounds Kung Fu, a few of the Chinese elders were no happy that I was ‘spreading the word.’ I was promised 30 students, and only four turned up for the first class. However over time, it just grew and grew and grew and became quite popular. Bruce Lee had to hear about his supposed ‘revealing of the secrets’ when he first emerged in the United States. However as he showed, the sky is the limit with Kung Fu; you can do anything with it. Much the same as racing.
- Gai and Barry. How did you get involved with the Lady Trainer? What was your first horse that Gai trained?
My wife Anne and Gai get along like a house on fire. They are both the best at what they do (Anne may well be the best female Martial Artist on earth) and it seemed just perfect that they became friends. We have had horses for a long time, but it was not until June a few years back when we got involved with Gai. I was punting with Tom Waterhouse who put me in touch with Gai after I showed an interest in racing again. I was invited by Rob and Gai to dinner in Sydney and Gai went through the horses she had left for sale. It was after the major sales and most of the Magic Millions yearlings had been sold and there were only a couple of Easter yearlings remaining. We bought into four yearlings that included Landing and Tohunga. And that was that. We have not looked back; Gai does it better with her owners than any other trainer I have ever been racing with. I remember in the ‘80s, it was roughly $100 per day for a horse in training. Gai now only charges slightly more than that despite it being over 30 years later. Also, Gai finds horses that are usually quite affordable; the price for yearlings has not really gone up for a long time, but prize money has increased six-fold. Gai is the best at getting the most out of every horse she trains.
- How would you describe your relationship with Gai? She certainly has an ability to know even the smallest insignificant details about her owners. Maybe Gai might enjoy a Kung Fu lesson?
My relationship with Gai is fantastic. Just the other day I was overseas and I text messaged Gai for her birthday. It must have been around 0130am in Australia. Well Gai fired a text straight back saying thankyou and was immediately talking racing. All this at 0130am! Gai would be fantastic at Kung Fu. She certainly has the discipline, the will to win and she strives to be the absolute best she can be at everything she does.
- Can you describe the feeling you experienced at around the 400m when Oliver moved Fiorente out and had a lap full of horse? It was from here that he looked the horse to beat in the 2013 Melbourne Cup?
Although there was still two furlongs to run, it did indeed look like Fiorente was the one to beat at that stage. I can’t really explain the feeling. It is hard to even talk about to anyone who has not experienced it. It is like you are floating on cloud nine. No matter what anyone says, winning this race is different to winning any other race, maybe on earth. Fiorente hit the lead and we all floated as one. I guarantee you it was not silent (screams galore) but it was almost as if I was floating in a still position while watching this striking son of Monsun hit the lead and win. It is the best feeling in racing. That is for sure.
- Is racing to you a hobby or an investment opportunity?
It is a hobby first and foremost, but if you are lucky and very dedicated it can become an investment opportunity. When you buy a share (a stock), any share, you can look on the computer screen and follow the company’s progress, but it is hardly fun! It can of course be very profitable, but it is nothing compared to socialising with Gai and her team and watching and betting on your favourite horses. I would sum up racing as a gateway to so many other great things. You gain this gateway while having the time of your life and yes you can make money out of it. A perfect situation in my opinion.
- Is China opening up in regards to gambling? If 1 in every 56 Chinese people had a bet on the Melbourne Cup, it would be equivalent to everyone single man, woman and child in Australia betting on the race. Australian racing seems to have a huge opportunity with China being both so close geographically and a huge trading partner.
It was looking good, but the Chinese Prime Minister has done a major backflip in regards to gambling. There were some race meetings held in China recently, but the crowds were very low because there was no gambling. But this is not the worst thing for Australian racing. China has plenty of billionaires and many millionaires that live in huge cities where they are anonymous. Some have created wealth through large holdings of rural property or manufacturing but have lacked education and social status which they try to seek in the west. What better way than through the sport of Kings! They can send their kids to the best school, have 10 luxury cars, but if they own the winner of the Ascot Gold Cup, they would be presented the trophy by Queen Elizabeth. This is how you get status in China and can eventually promote your business / businesses using this status. I think that the Chinese will end up being like those from Dubai and the Arab Emirates. They will send good horses out of their country, to Australia in the hope of success. If a billionaire buys 100 horses, at least some should be ok, and it is not about the prize money. It is about the prestige and the status that comes with winning the biggest races in the world. Plenty of wealthy Chinese citizens are looking towards Australian racing and the Melbourne Cup as a way to gain status and as a way to spend some money in the hope of some great fun. Back to the Chinese Prime Minister, I think it will be ten years before the thought of racing with punting is revisited, especially if this Prime Minister holds on for ten years, as he most likely will. The China Horse Club gave the country a big hope recently and I would think more and more organisations like this one will pop up over the next few years.
- Bart and Dato now Gai and Barry? You surely are the first man of Chinese decent to have won the Melbourne Cup (Dato is Malaysian); do they know this in China? Rumour has it, that there a new book of Australian accomplishments by Chinese Australians being sent to Beijing as we speak?
There is a book called 2013 Yearbook of Chinese in Australia, which showcases local Chinese contribution to Australian society over the past 200 years. This book is being launched as we speak and will be sent to China very soon where it will be presented to the Chinese Prime Minister. Three members of my family including me are in the book. Men like Dr. Victor Chan are in the book. Of course Dr Chan accomplished much more than I have, but it is such an honour to be thought of and I think it will be great for those in China to read about Fiorente.
- Sticking with the staying horses for the minute. What other staying prospects do you have with Gai? Which ones are you the most excited about?
Just to name three; Bonfire (Manduro x Night Frolic) who hopefully will win a nice race over the spring, Greatwood (Manduro x Gaze) who will be back for the Sydney Cup next year, but the one I am the most excited about is the new import Porchinet. He will create a lot of excitement in Australia.
- Growing up in Melbourne you must have an AFL team?
The Mighty Demons. They were great when I was growing up, but it has been a little lean of late!
- Leave the imported stayers aside, do you have any other young horses with Gai?
Three that I am very excited about are Bay Rock (Fastnet Rock x Legally Bay), Mali Rose (Medaglia D’oro X Mysterious Light) and Mr Boomsday (Domesday X Cashcade). Mr Boomsday! Wow! I can’t wait for this horse to get back to the races. Anne and I are just so glad we went with Bruce Slade (Round Table Racing) and purchased a share in this horse. He is flying; he trialled beautifully and the sky is the limit with him.
- What is it you like most about being involved with Gai and the entire stable?
Generally racing people are quiet, don’t like socialising too much and are completely dedicated to the horses. Well Gai’s staff are definitely dedicated to the horses, but they are so open and friendly and always up for a chat. The office staff, the foreman, the racing managers and everyone else are sensational to deal with. I have no doubt that Gai drags you all along with her. Gai has the perfect balance to fun and professionalism and she leaves no stone unturned in her search of success. It is always great to know that Gai wants to win the races just as much as the owners do if not more! She makes you feel a huge part of it and she wants you as an owner with her as a part of the team when the races are won. The social side is fantastic, but the openness and the information I can get about my horses at any time is the reason I will keep coming back. Gai makes everything come true. Horse of the Year awards, tickets to the Cup, anything. Gai with the help of her team gets things done and makes racing as enjoyable as it possibly can be. In all forms of business, operations prosper when they have good people involved. Gai is the master, but her team definitely hold her aloft and together they make for a great stable that is a pleasure to be involved with.
Good luck and stay tuned.