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HRN Original Blog:
55,000 Furlongs to the Finish

Racing in Hong Kong

Sha Tin Panorama

With the recent contractual deal to bring Hong Kong racing to the USA via simulcasting on TVG, I wanted to shed some light on a racing organization that I have come to greatly admire. Rather than listing out a bunch of statistics and great horses, I think I’d rather describe some of the similarities and differences to racing in North America.

 

The Hong Kong Jockey Club

They run the show. Literally. The HKJC is the single racing authority in Hong Kong and govern everything from horse auctions, veterinary services, drug testing, parimutal wagering, international sporting promotion, state lottery, track maintenance, public relations, racing infringements, and anything else that may involve racing or the integrity of the brand. The HKJC is the largest single source of tax revenue in Hong Kong as well as the largest private donator of charitable funds. For everyone in the US that desires a single governing body for racing, the HKJC serves as the ideal model that balances community service and equine entertainment.

 

The Rating System

Hong Kong has a very unique racing system that based entirely upon horse ratings. When a horse first arrives in Hong Kong, the stewards of the HKJC assign it a rating based on breeding, barrier trials, viewed training, pre-HK racing experience, and general fitness. This rating will determine the class of races it participates in, as well as carried weight during handicap races. There are 5 classes of races, with class 5 being the lowest ratings (1-40), all the way to class 1 (ratings 100+).  Higher purses go with races of higher rated horses, and the rating system also determines eligibility for stakes events. It’s really quite simple. Your horse wins races or performs well, its rating will increase. If it loses or performs poorly, the rating will decrease.

 

The Venues

Hong Kong is the home of two racetracks. Happy Valley is a small venue that is set amongst many of the cloud piercing sky-scrapers on Hong Kong Island. It boasts sharp, banked turns, and offers thrills during the weekday races to the many businessmen that don’t need to travel far to get their racing fix. Sha Tin is the large marque racetrack set in the New Territories (Hong Kong’s closest equivalent to suburbs). It is a 9 furlong turf oval with an interior synthetic training track and also stables the vast majority of actively training horses. A few train at Happy Valley, but Sha Tin is the premier location. Sha Tin also houses the state of the art veterinary and training facilities to ensure the safest environment for the City-State’s equine stars.

 

The Horses

Hong Kong has no breeding program of any kind, so this means that all racehorses are imported from around the world. The majority come from Australia and New Zealand, however, Europe, the United States, and South Africa also are responsible for the runners that call Hong Kong home. Because there is no breeding business based in the Chinese city-state, nearly 95% of all horses are gelded. This creates a population of horses that fuels heated rivalries that last for years. Akeed Mofeed, recently seen finishing 5th in the Dubai World Cup, is attempting to break the mold by remaining intact. The 5-year-old son of Dubawi boasts the track record and the bloodlines to become a very desirable stallion.

 

The Races

There are 80-90 race days per year during the 10 month racing season. Each racing day will show a eight to ten race card with the weekend day (usually at Sha Tin) concluding with a stakes race. Distances range from 5 to 12 furlongs mostly over the main turf courses at each venue. The racing season is highlighted by the Hong Kong International Races each December and the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup and BMW Champions Mile in the spring. High purses are not uncommon in Hong Kong and in order to entice top-tier international competition for the marque races, purses in excess of  $20 Million HKD (2.5 million USD).

 

Wagering

People love to gamble on racing. They especially love it in Southeast Asia. The simulcasting deal with TVG gives people in the US some exposure to the types of wagers available overseas. Sure, picking a horse to win is one bet that translates directly into Cantonese. However, a quinella and tierce are two that don’t. They are wagers that exist in North America; we just know them by different names. A quinella is just a fancy name for an exacta box, while a tierce is just a trifecta. A place bet in Hong Kong is the same as a show bet in the USA.

 

The Trainers

The HKJC puts a cap of 25 active trainers. Each manages stables full of high priced horses, they have to contend against a consistent group of colleagues that makes multiple year-end training championships a very impressive feat. Dale Romans even mentioned the would consider becoming a trainer in Hong Kong after a recent visit during the Hong Kong International Races with his turf star Little Mike this past winter.

 

The Jockeys

The HKJC has a unique blend of home grown and imported riders that makes for a very unique group. I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of Hong Kong’s premier local jocks, Matthew Chadwick during a visit a few years ago. A recount of that discussion can be seen here. Many of the jocks in Hong Kong go through a rigorous apprenticeship program where they are literally raised to ride. They are often brought up by one of the local trainers and ride for them throughout their career. However, many jockeys come to Hong Kong from all over the world. One of the most successful recent jockeys, Douglas Whyte, is from South Africa and has been the benchmark for success throughout the past decade of racing. Jockeys are some of the hottest celebrities in the city and are considered to be among society’s elite when not training and racing.

 

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Older Comments about Racing in Hong Kong...

I had no idea that Hong Kong did not have a breeding program and that 95% of their runners are gelded. That's great for fans, but it really makes me wonder if HK will ever expand into the breeding sector.
I personally really enjoy the format of horse racing in Hong Kong. Having the Jockey Club control everything except who wins has made Hong Kong one of the beacons of clean racing on the global scale. Where is the fun in horses running on numerous medications they do not need while being trained by someone who has multiple drug violations?
It sounds like their Jockey Club decides everything except who wins. Not much fun.
I have been to Happy Valley and the setting is outstanding. There were full fields, good odds and a large crowd. While the system in Hong Kong has a lot of advantages and we should follow their example in medication and transparency, Hong Kong racing is pretty unique and a lot of their system would not work well in the United States.
95% geldings, that is an interesting part of the Hong Kong racing.
We have been able to bet Hong Kong up here since 2000. Enjoy, you get land some serious bombs.
The PPs are the most complete of any anywhere telling you everything you could possibly want to know about competing horses.
Fantastic that TVG is offering this great wagering venue, but when are you going to bring me to Hong Kong, Matt?
Very cool!! You didnt have much to say about drugnpolicy, though?

Categories

Meet Matt Scott 

My horseracing journey began when I was 16 years old and my mom took me to Hollywood Park. Although I did not fully appreciate it at the time, the experience stuck with me forever. 10 years later, during one of my many international business trips to Hong Kong, I visited Sha Tin racetrack to watch the races. This is where my true passion began. 

 

Holding a masters degree in mechanical engineering, the puzzle of handicapping intrigued me. I have made a career of making decisions based on trends, patterns, and formulas, which is why I think I was initially drawn to the sport. However, I have truly learned to appreciate the horses and how magnificent they are as athletes. 

 

I currently live in San Jose, CA, and when not following racing, I like to spend time with my wife, mountain bike, and design high-speed bicycles that I build and race For reference, 55,000 furlongs is the distance from Hong Kong to my home in San Jose. Also, I have 1-year-old dachshund (aka wiener dog) that I am training to race in the annual Wiener Nationals held at Golden Gate Fields.   

 

The purpose of this blog is to help give people the viewpoint of a fan that is newer to the sport and eager to learn. I like to respectfully speak my mind, and often the ideas come out of left field, which could give a fresh perspective on a sport rich with tradition and history. hope to represent the many future fans that I wish to follow my footsteps into the Sport of Kings.