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Go Racing Hong Kong

December 2009 – Go Racing Hong Kong by Mark Read

If you want to get involved in the most exciting and punter friendly racing in the world, then Hong Kong racing is for you! Hong Kong is the pinnacle of the racing world and the benchmark, for all other racing nations. In a word Hong Kong racing is HOT – glamorous, seductive, bountiful and yet sophisticated and classy. Nothing else competes.

Hong Kong races 80 meetings per year, September – July. Each race day is a World Cup event. The best horse trainers and the best jockeys from all over the globe fiercely compete for supremacy in Hong Kong. What has evolved is a model mimicking Formula One motor racing where teams of trainers and jockeys create formidable combinations to rival the most famous in world racing history. Intense rivalry of Ferrari/Williams/McLaren proportions is replicated at the Sha Tin and Happy Valley amphitheatres. Nine times Hong Kong champion jockey, South African Douglas Whyte and Australia’s John Size are premiers but this year Darren Beadman has driven the John Moore stable into current supremacy (John Moore is the son of Australia’s most successful post-war jockey, “Cotton Fingers” George Moore who later dominated the Hong Kong training premiership for a dozen years). This pedigree never accepts running second. Australian’s plays a very strong hand with the dynamic combination of trainer David Hall and jockey Brett Prebble, still regularly landing plunges they were famous for in Melbourne. Alternatively when Brett Prebble combines with Tony Cruz, Hong Kong’s equivalent to George Moore, no force is more respected by Hong Kong punters.

Programming of racing in Hong Kong is unlike any other racing nation in this world. Racing is conducted on both dirt and turf tracks at the same race meetings. Variety is the spice as the two venues are poles apart in track layout. This adds to the intrigue and skill-set of horse and jockey required to win. The racing surfaces are remarkably constant employing absolute best practice of course maintenance in the racing world. Happy Valley races on Wednesday nights surrounded by a galaxy of twinkling lights slap bang in the middle of downtown Hong Kong. It’s small, loud and always “house full” just like the funkiest nightclub. Sha Tin in the New Territories has the space of Paris’ Longchamp – it’s a splendid copy that rivals the elegance of the original but with value added modern technology.

There is no greater spectacle than watching master horsemen executing tactical ploys over various courses and distances. Racing fans are in awe of the mastery of Douglas Whyte who has found a level beyond excellence to defy the guile and famous timing of Darren Beadman. However preoccupation with this duel leaves both vulnerable to the youth and power of Brett Prebble or the flamboyance of Olivier Doloueze. Then when the Belgium ace Khristoff Soumillon arrives in the Chinese New Year bringing his supreme confidence encroaching on justifiable arrogance – you have a competition so testing of art, nerve, imagination and ego it is compelling to watch the replays ten times over. No drudgery here in doing post race form! This glorious and intense competition is true Sport – the business of wagering is an optional, tasty bi-product, but why not indulge as the locals certainly do.

Like the jockey’s the competition of bloodstock and their trainers is truly inter-continental. A World Cup of competing nations progressively reinvents week by week, season by season fuelled by contributing racing nations of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, China, Singapore, England, Ireland, Germany, France and North and South America. Hong Kong selectively recruits the finest to be tested in racing’s greatest showground.

Hong Kong has the most efficient, fair and easily understood rating and handicapping system in the world. This means an equitable sharing of prize money to all owners not just to an elite class who can dominate by weight of numbers. Prize money is distributed equitably from the lowest class through to the highest to effect a cost of training/prize-money ratio to make ownership both attractive and viable. The population of horses is measured and controlled to satisfy the requirement of optimum field size of fourteen competitors at Sha Tin and twelve at Happy Valley each race. This is a planned racing economy limiting the greed, inefficiency and ignorance that is the blight of Australian racing which in some sectors, most notably New South Wales, is reduced to such mediocrity its future is threatened.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club insists its Stewards conduct the cleanest of races and supervise a strict code of ethics through all facets of the sport and wagering industry. Hong Kong recruits only the world’s best racing officials using their experience to mentor local administrators with the highest priority given to the preservation of integrity and punter satisfaction. All players investing on Hong Kong racing are able to do so with total confidence knowing that the trainers, jockeys, bloodstock and stewardship are all 5- star international class. The Hong Kong Jockey Club has nurtured an elevated code of conduct and excellence that demands adherence and has been rewarded with emerging home-grown professionals proving to be highly competent at these lofty levels. The fact that so many Australian jockeys in the last twenty years have been sent packing out of Asia because of breaches of local integrity standards reflects a culture of ignorance and denial in Australia of today’s required professionalism. The insensitive and arrogant handling of the Chris Munce case by New South Wales Racing confirms in Asian minds the hypocrisy of Australian racing officialdom who for a quarter of a century patronized and censured their Asian peers on flawed integrity. Unfortunately Australia is fast becoming the home for discards both human and equine while Hong Kong continually recruits the cream of each new crop.

Welcome, is the only way to describe anybody looking to become involved in Hong Kong race wagering. Hong Kong makes its racing sport and wagering industry easily accessible to first time visitors, providing free high quality information from a multitude of website links. Go to www.hkjc.com to witness the information model that Australian racing bodies must follow. User friendly, cutting edge, interactive media technology provides comprehensive information including all track work and barrier trials on video with commentary, all swimming details, all veterinary treatments and all relevant statistics with value added magazine material.. Go to www.horseracing.com.hk for an example of a high quality independent website available providing all form and analytical information that a punter could want. If on search you access a Chinese website to get the local “griff” you will find what you want as all websites have language converters.

Unfortunately, we find the stark contrast in attitude and culture displayed by the Australian racing hierarchy. RISA, the Australian racing industry’s information resource administered by Racing NSW seeks to charge every potential participating player for the most basic information, with little if any value added services. Racing media coverage through television and printed media in Hong Kong is of the highest standards and scope. Hong Kong racing administration is held accountable by a demanding informed public. There is a vital independent press sector that the Hong Kong Jockey Club monopoly cannot control. In contrast the Tabcorp/racing industry joint venture in the major States has strangled one of the greatest assets of Australian racing – a fiercely independent and provocative press corps.

Looking at the wagering perspective the Hong Kong Jockey Club continually invests in systems to support a range of exotic pool products which provide value for punters and a high return to the club. Australian punters will be staggered to learn that Quinella betting pools are typically three times bigger than the win only betting pool. Even more exotic wagering options are overwhelmingly popular especially jackpot betting available through bet types such as the Triple Trio (three trifectas on three selected races in a single pool) and the Six Up (a pick six of the last six races in a single pool). Returns are akin to winning a lottery but the product is still skill based and is attractive to lottery punters and big syndicates alike. These products provide a constant promotional vehicle to both old and new customers.

The more possible outcomes to an event, the higher take can be taken from the pool without diluting punter value. The Hong Kong Jockey Club has been successful in the education and promotion of exotic betting to achieve this desired outcome. The mathematics of a complex interdependent bet type creates value for punters not available in simple win and place betting. The uncompetitive high cost to the punter of totalizator win/place was recognized by the HKJC resulting in an initiative to offer a 10% discount for premium players over the last two seasons. This sector of the wagering market had been lost to wagering on soccer which offered far more competitive pricing. It’s no accident that the game of choice for Asians in casinos is Baccarat which has the smallest house margin. At the National Racing Conference in Sydney this week the keynote speaker Peter V’Landys, Chief Executive of NSW Racing, told the assembly that wagering providers must change their business model and charge the consumer more because after all the “punter doesn’t know the difference whether you are taking 4% or 14% out of his dollar”. How is it then that betting on NSW racing with its small fields is in a nosedive? The answer is that the punter appreciates that in a seven runner field he is betting against a house margin of 2% per possible outcome versus a 14 horse field where the house margin is 1% per possible outcome. In NSW TAB the punters protest is a march out of NSW racing into Victoria and Queensland racing products. The policy makers seem blind. Sadly too many just don’t know or are too arrogant to ask.

Tabcorp, the racing industry’s betting agent and the other pillar of the racing industry joint venture has shown an inability to increase race wagering interest and turnover since privatization and its record is living proof that it does not understand betting value for punters. Unlike the Hong Kong Jockey Club which administers its own wagering agenda the Tabcorp agency has given low priority to capital expenditure in betting systems that can support and promote advanced exotic betting. The unmistaken priority has been in gaming which has resulted in Tabcorp emerging from the racing industry’s wagering agent to being a major competitor in the gaming sector through a massive investment in casinos funded by the massive benefits of its exclusive franchise. One has to wonder at Tabcorp’s agenda. The continual dumbing down of racing as an intellectual wagering product to a pseudo gaming product based on quantity not quality has the character of roulette racing. After the first decade of privatization it became pretty clear that the tail was wagging the dog. The transformation is now complete and the betting agent has ascended above the principal in scale and influence. The racing industry’s apathy and ignorance in allowing this to happen has a legacy which threatens its future viability. If Tabcorp was serious about promoting wagering they would have at the very least copied the successful Hong Kong wagering models and exploited their exclusive marketing and media franchise to educate the Australian market out of win and place betting into value exotic betting. The fact it did not means Tabcorp is either dumb on wagering or has had another agenda. Tabcorp continues to manage the business with a mindset that growth in wagering revenue can only come from increasing the number of races.

Next Sunday we can enjoy the international colour and promotion when the HKJC hosts an International race week attracting the best of the best which is what the global audience now demands. In its evolution the HKJC has continually poached the best Australia had in totalizator systems developers, horsemen, bloodstock and administrators. The recipe was further enhanced with other expertise from all sides of the globe and the unique entrepreneurship which is indigenous to Hong Kong. Hong Kong racing has left Australia in its wake. Now Australia must learn from Hong Kong.

Personally my sporting interest in racing has migrated to Hong Kong. Australian racing, except for its carnivals, has lost me as an avid fan. In frustration I jumped ship two years ago and found my passion reignited for all things racing condensed into the user friendly package that Hong Kong racing is. Come racing Hong Kong and experience again at any of its 80 race dates what racing in Australia was twenty five years ago every race day and now revived only on a few major event days.

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