Apr 20, 2018

Enjoy the Ride with Horse Racing in Hong Kong

 

Once upon a time in the mid-1800s, an inhabitable swamp called Wong Nai Chung was renamed "Happy Valley" by the British. Since 1846, Happy Valley has been the home of horse racing in Hong Kong. The colonialists at the time turned the swamp into a flattened swathe of land meant for horse racing.

 

Happy Valley: The Mecca of HK Horse Racing

 

 

 

(Image: Happy Valley, 1935; Courtesy: Gwulo)

 

The early days of Happy Valley saw a race held annually during Chinese New Year. People from all walks of life, locals and foreigners alike, came together to sit in the spectator stands. Back then, the riders were amateurs from in and around the colony, as well as from established cities such as Shanghai, Tianjin and Fuzhou.

 

Forty-two years after the foundation of Happy Valley, the Hong Kong Jockey Club was formed, with the purpose of more efficient organization of horse racing while also taking commissions on bets by private clubs. 

 

Happy Valley racing did very well during the early 1900s. Around 1926, the HKJC finally opened its membership to racing fans for the first time. Although the Japanese occupation in the 1940s put a temporary stop to horse racing in Hong Kong, their eventual departure and the liberation of the city heralded its return in 1947.

 

(Image courtesy: Hong Kong Jockey Club)

 

In 1957, the two three-storey stands were replaced, converted into a seven-storey structure. In 1971, HKJC switched from amateur racing to become a professional racing organization.

 

Two years later, in a huge development, the club introduced night racing at Happy Valley. On October 17, 1973, the inaugural floodlit event took place. Night races became a regular feature on Wednesdays.

 

Sha Tin Racecourse: A New Era

 

 

In 1978 the Sha Tin Racecourse opened, just 18.5 kilometres from Happy Valley, with a whopping capacity of 80,000. A decade later, Hong Kong's first-ever international horse race, the Hong Kong Invitation Cup, was held here. Today, Sha Tin holds a maximum capacity of 85,000 people and hosts 474 races per season, including the Sha Tin Racecourse Silver Jubilee Cup and the Sha Tin Sprint Trophy.

 

Horse Racing in Hong Kong Today

Despite being a smaller venue, Happy Valley is still considered the "main" and most beloved venue for horse racing in Hong Kong. The weekly Wednesday night race (from September until July) turns into more than just a race, it becomes a party of its own!

 

The elegant Adrenaline Bar is located on the second and third floor of the pavilion stand, and serves a buffet dinner at just HK$370. The pavilion has the world's largest multi-touch tables, providing racing information such as the odds, racing trends, jockeys, and assists with placing bets.

 

 

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(Image courtesy: HKJC)

 

Membership at the Hong Kong Jockey Club is considered prestigious. While it initially catered only to British expatriates in Hong Kong, anyone can apply today. There are around 28,000 members at the HKJC, with only a select proportion receiving an annual permit to own a horse.

 

Despite the horse racing industry struggling to acquire new talent, Hong Kong doesn't seem to have this problem. Some of the highest paid jockeys in the world belong to the Hong Kong Jockey Club!

 

The 2018 racing schedule:

 

The Audemars Piguet QEII Cup is the jewel among Hong Kong’s three spring features.  It has a purse of HK$24 M, an increase of HK$4 M from 2017, it will be held on Sunday, 29 April 2018 at the Sha Tin race track. 

The race was first run on the Happy Valley sand track over 1575m in 1975 and had many different guises and forms until it was opened up to international competition as a 2200m turf contest at Sha Tin in 1995. In 1997 it switched to the 2000m distance which is still raced today.

 

 

April:

April has been an action-packed month in the world of horse racing. With just three races remaining this month, the racecourse will see mostly Class 3 races for the remainder of the month. There’s only one Class 1 race remaining.

 

(Class 1 races are the major races with the most thoroughbred horses. Class 1 races are pattern races, and considered ideal on flat surfaces such as Happy Valley or Sha Tin.)

 

April 21: Sha Tin

April 25: Happy Valley Night Racecourse

April 29: Sha Tin

 

May:

May won’t be any less exciting than April! Happy Valley is set to host three of the five weekly Wednesday night races. As usual, most of the races in the month will be Class 3 races. There’s only going to be one Class 1 race all month long, but there will be Grade 1, 2 and 3 races.

 

(Grade 1 races are the highest level of thorough/standardbred stakes racing. The grades of horses are determined on a yearly basis, based on the horses’ performance. Age and sex also play a role.)

 

May 2: Sha Tin Night Race

May 6: Sha Tin

May 9: Happy Valley Night Race

May 12: Sha Tin

May 16: Happy Valley Night Race

May 20: Sha Tin

May 23: Happy Valley Night Race

May 27: Sha Tin

May 30: Sha Tin Night Race

 

June:

June is marked by the absence of any Class 1 or Grade 1 race. Though Class 3 races will be seen heavily throughout the preceding months, June will see an equal number of Class 4 races too. Happy Valley is set to host three Wednesday night races in June.

 

June 3: Sha Tin 

June 6: Happy Valley Night Race

June 10: Sha Tin

June 13: Happy Valley Night Race

June 16: Sha Tin

June 24: Sha Tin 

June 27: Wednesday Night Race

 

July:

Not much has been announced for July's fixtures other than the fact that three races will be taking place at Sha Tin while two Wednesday races will take place at Happy Valley. More details on July’s fixtures are expected soon.

In a world where horse racing seems to be getting less viewership every year, the opposite seems to be true for Hong Kong. Horse racing has been ingrained in the city’s culture for over 150 years, and if you live in Hong Kong, a horse-racing experience at Sha Tin or the legendary Happy Valley is a must-do! 

 

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