Did Sunday’s International Races give you a taste for Hong Kong racing?
Whilst it’s one of the great events on the world racing calendar, if you’re a turf buff then Hong Kong racing really should be on your radar all year round. If not, read on to get acquainted with the basics.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club
The HKJC is racing in Hong Kong, and one of its most important institutions in a financial, social and historical sense. The governing body was founded in 1884 and runs all racing, maintaining tight control over all aspects of the sport and wagering.
The Hong Kong racing season runs from September to early July, with an annual break taking place for August and most of July.
For the most part there’s two race meetings each week in Hong Kong, usually on a Wednesday night and a Sunday. Hong Kong is in the same timezone as Perth, so perfect for those in the west. Sundays work well for those of us on the eastern seaboard, running from early afternoon until evening. Wednesday night is one for the night owls.
Two racecourses host all racing in Hong Kong: Happy Valley and Sha Tin. Both are owned and operated by the HKJC.
The smaller of the two, Happy Valley, is (funnily enough) located in the Happy Valley region, on the island of Hong Kong itself. It generally hosts the Wednesday night meeting and was rebuilt to its current configuration in 1995, with a capacity of 55,000 people. The track itself is a tight, clockwise layout, with a total circumference of 1450m and a 300m straight.
Sha Tin is the premier racecourse and is located in the New Territories on the mainland. It hosts all major meetings, including all Group 1 races, with racing usually on a Sunday. It’s a much larger track with a circumference of 1900 metres and a straight of 430 metres, making for a good galloping course that offers all runners a chance. There’s also a chute for 1000m sprint races down the straight.
A separate, all-weather track sits inside the turf track, and Sha Tin is also home to all of Hong Kong’s stabling and training facilities.
Hong Kong has a reputation as the most stringently officiated racing jurisdiction in the world. This is achieved by the vice-like control that the HKJC exercises over all aspects of the sport.
There are twenty-four trainers licensed by the HKJC to operate in Hong Kong each season. These licenses are by invitation only and are highly sought-after: those who are successful stay on for many seasons, whilst those who struggle are turned over, and fresh blood is brought in. Each trainer can have a maximum of sixty horses under his supervision, all of whom are housed at the HKJC stable complex at Sha Tin.
The only exception is special invitations extended to overseas trainers and their horses to compete in specific events, such as last weekend’s international races.
Continuing the theme of strict control, trainers cannot employ their own staff, with all stablehands employed by the HKJC and allocated to trainers. It’s the same with vets: the club has its own equine hospital and veterinary staff, who are the only people permitted to monitor and treat the animals.
Jockeys are also invited and licensed by the HKJC, though there is no set number. The premiership tends to be dominated by a few big names: Brazilian Joao Moreira, South African Douglas Whyte and Aussie Zac Purton.
Again, guest jockeys are invited for international racedays.
These conditions make for a small and very stable population of horses, trainers and jockeys, which is what has made Hong Kong so popular with punters. There’s little mystery surrounding each horse: there’s no unknown runners, trainers or jockeys to deal with when doing the form. All horses are trained, galloped and treated by vets at Sha Tin, with the condition of all – including vet treatments – rigorously recorded and reported publicly.
The result is a mountain of extremely reliable information on each runner, which attracts the world’s biggest punters, form students and syndicates.
Betting in Hong Kong is – surprise surprise – very tightly controlled. The HKJC has a government-granted monopoly on all race betting, which takes place on its own tote. Betting with anybody else (bookmakers) is illegal for both residents and visitors: you can only legally bet on-course, at one of the HKJC’s off-track betting shops, or on the HKJC website.
This makes for huge pools. In 2015/16, total racing pools for the season were HKD107.4 billion, which is around AUD17 billion.
In addition to racing, the HKJC also runs the Mark Six lottery, as well as being the only legal betting outlet in Hong Kong for worldwide football.
Betting at home
The HKJC has co-mingling agreements with many wagering bodies around the world, with their pools combined into the main tote pool. The NSW and Victorian TABs take part in this, so Aussie punters have access to the enormous pools and the same dividends. UBET do not, and hence run their own standalone pools on Hong Kong racing.
And while betting with bookmakers is illegal in Hong Kong itself, that’s obviously not the case here. Most bookies operating in Australia operate fixed-odds markets.
The enormous challenge with Hong Kong racing is finding an edge: the factors mentioned mean that some of the world’s best form analysts and punters take part in Hong Kong, which makes for very sharp markets with little “fat on the bone”. It does offer an extremely information-rich environment with which to hone your form skills however: you’d be mad not to give it a go!