Hong Kong Horse Racing
Happy Valley Racecourse
Most midweek meetings take place in the city venue of Happy Valley, where the tight and twisty circuit plays host to spectacular night meetings under lights. Happy Valley nowadays has only got a turf surface and with its unique characteristics, horses need to have an adaptable racing style to do well.
The modern Shatin racecourse hosts the majority of meetings in Hong Kong, including all Group One races. It’s a spacious and almost completely flat course, with two types of racing surfaces (turf and all-weather). Shatin caters to the racing preferences of most horses, giving all contenders a fair chance of winning in any given race. Race distances in Hong Kong range from 1000 meters to a maximum distance of 2400 meters and fields are no larger than fourteen horses.
Hong Kong Handicap System
With a population of around 1,100 horses from around the globe, Hong Kong racing works under an easy to understand handicap system, where gallopers gain or lose rating points from their performance on the racecourse. Every horse in Hong Kong has a rating score and they progress up or down a ‘class’ depending on their current mark. There are five classes in Hong Kong (1, 2, 3, 4 and 5), with one being the highest rated group and five the lowest. The class band in Hong Kong is set around a 20 point interval. The Jockey Club allocates horses into different races in relation to their rating. Any horse which has a rating of 95 or over is eligible to run in pattern races and just like other major racing jurisdictions around the world, Hong Kong has a program of Group One, Two and Three races for its elite gallopers.
Hong Kong Group One Races
Fourteen Group One races are run in Hong Kong each season, with the Hong Kong International Race day in December being the richest and most important meeting of the year. Domestically, the Hong Kong Derby, run in March, is considered the most prestigious race for local owners and holds a lot of public appeal. The HK Derby is a completely unique event. Only four-year olds training in Hong Kong are eligible to compete. As Hong Kong has its fair share of Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere imports, the four-year old age is deemed suitable for horses from both hemispheres to race on equal terms.
Hong Kong Racing Trainers
Hong Kong attracts some of the world’s finest trainers. World renowned horse handlers such as Paul O’Sullivan (New Zealand), Andrea Schutz (Germany) and David Ferraris (South Africa), are now based and apply their expertise in Hong Kong. The Australian contingent is dominated by John Moore (son of legendary jockey George Moore), David Hall (the original trainer of Makybe Diva) and the ever hardworking horseman John Size, who has won five of the last seven trainers’ premierships in the territory.
Local trainers also make their presence felt with the likes of Dennis Yip, Danny Shum and Almond Lee constantly bringing home winners throughout the season. Hong Kong racing’s favorite son Tony Cruz, who has achieved fame worldwide as a jockey in Europe throughout the 1980s, now puts his magic touch on horses as a trainer and he continues to be a dominant figure in the Hong Kong racing scene, especially when major races are being run.
Hong Kong Racing Jockeys
The roster of riders in Hong Kong reads like an Academy Award nomination list for the best jockeys in the world. French jockeys Gerald Mosse and Eric Saint-Martin are two of the best big race riders in their homeland, having each won an Arc De Triomphe and a host of other major races in their respective careers. They are now a permanent fixture for racing in Hong Kong and are joined by fellow countryman Olivier Doleuze, who is famous for his celebrations after the post whenever he lands a winner.
Since the late 1980s, South African jockeys have had a long history of success in Hong Kong and the nation is currently represented by Douglas Whyte, Anthony Delpech and Felix Coetzee. Whyte has been the leading rider in Hong Kong for the last seven seasons and his immaculate approach to his job is something to be marveled at. Australasia is the source of some of the most talented jockeys and in Hong Kong, the continent is represented by Brett Prebble, Glen Boss, Zac Purton and the one and only Shane Dye. Throughout the course of the season, other great jockeys from around the world such as Frankie Dettori, Christophe Soumillon, Yutaka Take, Damien Oliver and Mick Kinane may make invited or short-term appearances, which further boost the level of competitiveness in the jockey’s rank.
Hong Kong Racing – World Class Competition
Because of the competitive nature of jockeys, trainers and the class system, Hong Kong races are often fought out in close finishes. Horses that have just won may not be competitive again in their following start and vice versa. Horses that do not do well for a period will get some relief in the handicap and can be competitive again in the future. Finding a winner is always a challenge, but the structure and flair of Hong Kong racing makes finding one in this racing mad city a little easier and a whole lot of fun!