Come on over to the races! – Horse racing in Hong Kong

happy-valley2_2346457bWhen the British began colonizing swathes of South and Far East Asia in the early to mid-19th century, apart from looking for trading opportunities, they also wished to introduce the British way of life to these countries. Along with British culture, education, infrastructure, and architecture, the British also brought traditional sporting pursuits like cricket, rugby and horse racing to the colonies.

The British introduced the sport of horse racing in Hong Kong in 1841.  The colonists drained a swamp in order to establish the Happy Valley racecourse in 1845. The course went on to host its first race in 1846. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, the main regulatory body for the sport, was subsequently founded in 1894.The racecourse saw continuous racing action from its inception except for the intervening years of the Second World War.

20050313_derby_1_lAt first the sport was limited to the elite classes but it soon found favor with the masses given that gambling is ingrained in Asian culture. In fact, the Chinese tend to believe ‘a little gambling is good for health though too much can be bad’.  Such was the popularity of horse racing in Hong Kong that a second racecourse came to be established in the New Territories suburb of Sha Tin in 1978.

In modern day, Hong Kong, horse racing, the Mark Six Lottery and Betting on soccer are the three legal forms gambling. These government-approved gambling channels are available at the territory-wide off course betting centers of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which in 1971 became a professional organization. The club is today reputed as a well-run organization that attracts the best management talents from around the world. In fact, horseracing standards in Hong Kong are regarded as equivalent to the worlds’ best and are renowned for their fairness and transparency. The desirable membership of the Hong Kong Jockey Club is available via nomination and election only. Traditionally this highly exclusive membership was available only to the wealthy, old money families of Hong Kong, nowadays though it is has been extended somewhat to include other affluent people of Hong Kong.

In addition to functioning as the center of gambling and horse racing, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is today one of the leading charitable organizations in Hong Kong that contributes greatly to the community.

Horse racing as a sport in Hong Kong has evolved over the years.  The traditional horse racing season in Hong Kong extends from September to June-July. Daytime fixtures are usually held on Saturdays and Sundays and public holidays while night races are on the agenda for Wednesday evenings at the Happy Valley racecourse. In recent times, the Sha Tin racecourse has also begun to host night events. The annual racing schedule is always available on the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s website.

This annual race schedule usually features ten international Group 1 races and three Group 2 international races. These races permit international participation and attract jockeys and horses from around the globe. Some of the biggest races include events such as the Hong Kong International Races, the Stewards Cup, the Hong Kong Gold Cup, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (the Derby), the QEII Cup and the Champions Cup.

Horse racing in Hong Kong is nowadays not merely a sport in fact it’s regarded as a major social event. Especially the evening race meets at the Happy Valley racecourse, which always attract huge crowds.  A party atmosphere prevails here with beer tents, banquets at the onsite restaurants and lounges, music and entertainment coupled with much excitement. It’s no wonder then that the night races at Happy Valley Racecourse are considered to be a huge tourist attraction in Hong Kong.

The races usually kick off at 7.15 pm, though gates to the course open much earlier around 5pm to accommodate the large crowd of race-goers.

The Happy Valley Racecourse today is surrounded by a multitude of tall Hong Kong skyscrapers as the city has grown around this green lung, the epicenter of horseracing in Hong Kong. Each race meet at the Happy Valley racecourse features between seven to eight races with intervals of half-hour. These half-hour breaks allow race goers time to place their bets, collect their winnings or even grab a drink and a bite to eat.

The racecourse at Happy Valley offers three enclosures, the General Stand where much of the crowds congregate, the Second Floor Terrace where more serious race-goers assemble, and the Member’s enclosure located on the upper floors. All three enclosures have different admission fees, policies and offer their unique ambiance.  Suffice to say no matter where you are seated, you are bound to enjoy the carnival atmosphere of the night races at Happy Valley.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club tries to market the Happy Valley racecourse as a prominent tourist attraction in Hong Kong. The club has an interesting Hong Kong Racing Museum on site that tells the tale of the evolution of racing in Hong Kong. It also regularly organizes the ‘Come Horseracing Tour’ exclusively for tourists to Hong Kong. This all-inclusive tour transports tourists to the race meetings and offers them access to the Members’ enclosure and betting halls and a buffet Chinese or Western style dinner.

Not to be outdone the Sha Tin racecourse has its many attractions as well. Like its sibling in Happy Valley, the Sha Tin racecourse also hosts several onsite restaurants and bars. Further, the racecourse is also is home to the world’s longest and largest video screen, which is used to broadcast the races to the crowds. The course additionally has a retractable roof over its parade ring so that patrons can view the parade of horses in comfort regardless of weather conditions.

No matter where you plan to take in this sport of kings in Hong Kong at the Happy Valley or Sha Tin Racecourses, you are guaranteed to have a great time even if you are not a racing fan.