23rd February 2021 – (Hong Kong) Although it is not often thought of as one of the historic horse racing destinations when compared to some of the more well-established racecourses across the United Kingdom, Ireland and the USA, Hong Kong nevertheless has one of the more robust horse racing scenes.
As is well known, the inhabitants and residents of Hong Kong are famously fond of betting, and this is equally true of horse racing. There are a variety of historical and cultural reasons for this, although perhaps the most obvious is that betting on horse races is one of the ways of legally gambling in Hong Kong. This historical quirk has ensured that horse racing has maintained its status as an incredibly popular spectator sport in the area.
The history of horse racing in Hong Kong
With a history stretching back over 150 years, horse racing has long had a presence in Hong Kong. The sport was initially introduced to the region by the British colonial administrators when the southern part of Hong Kong was ceded to Britain, all the way back in 1842. The earliest horse races held in the colonial territory were in the form of informally organized races held on a racetrack – known as the Happy Valley Racecourse – that had been constructed on reclaimed marshland. The first races in this location were held in 1846. Official horse races got their start within the colonial territory in 1884, when the famous Hong Kong Jockey Club was established.
Since then, horse racing has continued to remain popular among local Hong Kongers and expatriates alike. Perhaps most unusually, the special status of horse racing was recognized during the City’s handover in 1997, when former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping vowed to keep horse racing alive in the city.
Horse racing and elite society in Hong Kong
As with many other countries around the world with a history of horse racing, Hong King is no different when it comes to the status attached to horse racing. Hong Kong doesn’t have a native horse breeding culture as there is in other horse racing societies such as Ireland or the UK, which adds another layer of prestige.
To become a horse owner in Hong Kong, you need to secure membership of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which is no easy feat! Each applicant must be nominated by two voting members – with only around 200 of these in the city. In total, there are about 28,000 members of the club, with only a few hundred horse ownership permits issued each year.
Horse racing in Hong Kong today
In contemporary times, horse racing has continued to be a key event on the Hong Kong social calendar, which is no doubt helped by the prestigious race courses in the city. For this reason, sports betting on Hong Kong horse races has become incredibly popular, both in-person and online through sports betting websites such as BetFromAsia.com.
Currently, Hong Kong has two main racecourses, which conduct almost 700 races per year. These are the Sha Tin and Happy Valley racecourses, both of which fall under the Hong Kong Jockey Club. These racecourses are open to the public, with entry fares to either location relatively inexpensive. Both locations also run tours periodically.
The prime time to visit these historic locations is, without question, during any of the major racing events they host each year. These include the Hong Kong International Races as well as the Hong Kong Derby. Both of these are hotly anticipated events on the Hong Kong social calendar each year.
These locations are not only frequented by local Hong Kong residents purely to watch races, however, with both sites having food and drink options that make them well worth a visit. The Happy Valley Racecourse, for example, features as a live music venue, with a range of classy bars to drop in to for a drink.
Horse racing in Hong Kong: economic powerhouse?
Although other locations around the world have seen a decline in interest and revenues associated with the horse racing industry, Hong Kong appears to be bucking this trend. Hong Kong still generates significant amounts of economic activity through horse racing, with some of the highest paid jockeys in the world calling the city their home. In 2015, when the Hong Kong Jockey Club celebrated its 130th anniversary, it had generated a whopping $13.9 billion in revenue, with an average turnover of $170 million per race. For this reason, the horse racing scene here continues to be one of the healthiest in the world.