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HK beats the odds to overcome handicaps
Despite facing a number of enormous hurdles, the city has improved the quality of its horses to the extent that it has 30 per cent of world's best
28 June 2009
South China Morning Post

Hong Kong's profile as a racing jurisdiction with no grazing land, no breeding industry and a horse population capped at about 1,200 animals should be sufficient handicap to render it incapable of measuring up to major racing nations in either hemisphere.

But negative perspectives never really meant much to the late Jockey Club chairman, Alan Li Fook-sum, who took a small international dream and spun an enormous one, laying down not just a foundation but a programme of encouragement that would quickly drag Hong Kong into racing's premier league.

That was December 1998. Now, just over 10 years down the track, Hong Kong has been highly decorated on the international arena many times over.

At one stage over the past year, Hong Kong was credited as having three of the top 10 thoroughbreds on the planet, an incredible statistic.

Just how do you grow the quality of your racehorses to the extent that you have 30 per cent of the world's best despite owning less than 1 per cent of all thoroughbreds?

Hong Kong's breakthrough horse, in terms of world recognition, was a sprinter - Fairy King Prawn who was the hero in the 1999 Hong Kong Sprint.

The following year, however, Fairy King Prawn was stretched out to 1,600m and that's where he really won acclaim, becoming the first Hong Kong-trained horse to land a Group One race on foreign soil. The benchmark moment came in the Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo in June 2000.

The next big event that telegraphed Hong Kong's arrival as a world power was the international meeting of December 2002, when the Jockey Club played host to many of the best horses in the world, but three of the four races fell to locals - All Thrills Too (HK Sprint), Olympic Express (HK Mile) and Precision (HK Cup).

Two weeks later, on December 26, came the debut performance of a sprinter who would change the face of Hong Kong racing.

Silent Witness exploded onto the scene and laughed at the huge swipes the handicapper took at him after each arrogant win.

He arrived in Group company at start No5, and the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint was his at start No8. Silent Witness became not just Hong Kong's, but the world's champion sprinter for 2003, 2004 and 2005.

He won each one of his first 17 starts and was beaten by a mere nose when he stepped to a mile for the first time in a bid to make it No18. He ultimately won his own Group One on foreign soil in the Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama in October 2005.

Fairy King Prawn was Horse of the Year twice (2000 and 2001), a feat later replicated by Silent Witness (2004 and 2005).

While there may never be another Silent Witness, Hong Kong did not have to wait long for some big-time recognition for its sprinters. An ageing Silent Witness turned up for a third attempt at the Hong Kong Sprint in 2006, but David Hall's Absolute Champion simply blew him away, rocketing away to a 4½-length victory in course record time.

Then came Sacred Kingdom. There was a hint of Silent Witness about the way he trounced the best in the 2007 Hong Kong Sprint and, at that stage of his career, defeat had only visited him once.

That signature win also gave Sacred Kingdom the "world champion" tag and the number used to profile him was the same given to Silent Witness four years earlier - an international rating of 123.

The following spring, Sacred Kingdom fought off Absolute Champion in a "world title bout" in the Chairman's Sprint Prize (1,200m) at Sha Tin. Although Absolute Champion died the following May and Sacred Kingdom succumbed to injury, it was a performance that lasted for the entire year in the minds of the global handicapping panel, and Sacred Kingdom was given the global honour for a second time.

This year, in theory, Hong Kong's sprinters are down in quality on previous seasons. But it still managed to land the one-two in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint in December, with Inspiration and Green Birdie.

Sacred Kingdom has returned to win twice late this term and, at last glance, the handicappers had him on a mark of 122 after he had set new course record figures in Singapore's KrisFlyer International Sprint. While Sacred Kingdom will probably have to answer to the champion middle-distance and staying star Viva Pataca when Horse of the Year honours are announced on Wednesday, he'll still be the measuring stick for the sprinters, both domestically and internationally.
 

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Hong Kong govt okays plan to extend horse racing season
3 July 2009
Agence France Presse

The Hong Kong government said Friday it has approved a proposal to add five extra meetings to the horse racing season in a bid to lure punters away from the glitzy casinos of its neighbouring cities.

Carrie Yau, permanent secretary for home affairs, said the change, which would extend the season from 78 to 83 meetings, was necessary to boost the city's economy and tourism due to the fierce competition from places such as Macau and Singapore.

"The arrangement on the number of race meetings in Hong Kong has not been changed for 10 years. We must look at the development of our competitors and make sure that we do not lag behind," she told a press briefing.

"The past five years have seen the opening of the Venetian, the City of Dreams and other grand casinos in Macau. Even a conservative city like Singapore has devoted a lot of effort to developing its tourism and entertainment sector," she said.

The change, to be introduced in September, would mean that the racing season, which currently lasts from September to June, would run until July.

A survey commissioned by the Jockey Club, the city's horseracing authorities, showed that Hong Kong punters lost 20-25 billion dollars at casinos in Macau last year, compared to 11 billion dollars on horse races in Hong Kong.

The club said earlier that the change would generate more than 500 million Hong Kong dollars (64 million US) in tax revenue for the government each year.

Yau said the government would also allow the club to incorporate 15 simultaneous broadcasts of overseas races on the non-local race days of each season, which was not permitted under the current regime.

She said the change would enable expats residing or working in Hong Kong to enjoy the overseas games and prevent illegal betting.

The Jockey Club -- the sole legal betting forum in a territory of seven million people -- is Hong Kong's biggest taxpayer. It is also the city's largest private charity donor, with annual contributions totalling about 1 billion Hong Kong dollars in the past few years.
 

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Lawmakers question the number of jobs extra race days will create
11 July 2009
South China Morning Post

Lawmakers have asked whether the Jockey Club inflated the number of part-time jobs it would create following the increase in the number of race days and simulcasts of overseas races.

During a meeting yesterday of the Legislative Council's home affairs panel, Democrat Wong Sing-chi said the Jockey Club was trying to create an illusion.

"The number of race days will only be increased by five to 83 a season. How could that prompt the club to recruit for more than 4,000 jobs?" he said.

The Executive Council earlier this month approved the increase in race days and simulcasts of overseas races - from 10 to 25 - during the next racing season. The Jockey Club said the expansion would create about 4,100 part-time jobs.

Unionist legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said he had already received complaints from some of the club's part-time workers.

"Originally, a part-time worker worked 30 hours a week but now a part-time worker only gets eight hours a week," Mr Lee said.

Social welfare sector legislator Peter Cheung Kwok-che said he had received similar complaints.

"We fear it is like cheating the government and society," he said.

A number of lawmakers said they regretted that the government had approved the increase in the number of race days before discussing it with lawmakers.

Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing said the government respected the Legislative Council and legislators. "The decision to increase the number of race days was a careful one that sought to strike a balance among the interests of various parties," he said.

"Our main consideration is our economy. In the current difficult time, we have to take into account the impact of the race day increase on our job market."

Referring to concerns over the number of jobs that will be created, Mr Tsang said the government would follow up with the Jockey Club.

The club released a statement yesterday that said the five additional race days would help preserve and create 4,000 part-time jobs, while the 15 extra simulcasts of overseas races would add another 100 jobs.

"In respect of the comments made by members of the panel concerning the working hours of telebet [telephone betting] staff, the club wishes to state that the number of roster hours for each telebet staff differs according to the staff's personal preference and operational needs. The average roster hours of part-time telebet staff remains unchanged between 30 to 50 hours per month," the club said.

Many of the club's telephone betting staff are part-time workers.
 

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Horses for courses at jockey school
The Standard
Friday, July 17, 2009

The Hong Kong Jockey Club's Apprentice Jockeys' School is no longer only about racing.

Founded more than 30 years ago to provide the territory with top-notch jockeys like Tony Cruz, the school is now more interested in turning out horsemen, not simply riders.

"Some trainees are more suitable for a different career direction other than being becoming an apprentice jockey," headmistress Amy Chan Lim-chi said, adding the new program offers a more diversified career path so that trainees can work in other areas related to horses.

Apart from learning to how to ride to win, the young trainees are also taught about equestrianism, the training of horses, the work of racing officials, and even to become farriers who specialise in vital hoof care.

The nine-month program provides basic training before the trainees branch off into specialist fields.

Already, the club has received more than 300 applications for this year's 20 vacancies on the program. The recruitment process ends on July 26.

"Academic standards are not the most important criterion, but applicants should have a passion for horses and a determination to learn the basics," Chan said.

Kelvin Leung Ka-wai, Jim Kwok Wai-lok, and Ricky Wong Chin-hei were among the last batch of trainees recruited two years ago.

Leung was even sent to Tasmania to fine tune his riding skills.

All three admitted the program was tough. "I applied because I am interested in horses and love sports. The training was very tough at the beginning and the toughest part was the fitness and physical training," Leung said.

The trainees lead a strictly disciplined life, and Chan said the most difficult thing was changing their habits.

"We used to sleep at 3.30am, but we now have to wake up at 3.30am instead," Chan said.

Apart from a highly disciplined schedule, trainees need to keep fit, and say no to snacks and junk food.

Trainees receive a monthly income of about HK$7,700. Applications are open to anyone over the age of 15 who loves horses.
 
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