SHA TIN RACECOURSE
Sha Tin show goes on – that in itself is remarkable as protests continue.
The 61st edition of the Hong Kong Open, a key European Tour golf event won by Rory McIlroy in 2011 and Justin Rose in 2015, was postponed six days before the first tee shot was supposed to be hit last month.
“As the safety of our players, staff, stakeholders and everyone involved in each and every one of our tournaments around the world is our top priority, we feel this is the correct, but unfortunate, course of action,” said Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour.
The Hong Kong Tennis Open, due to start on 5 October, was cancelled too. A statement said “a smooth running of the tournament can be better assured at a later time”.
Both of these events fell victim to the ongoing political turbulence in Hong Kong, which has been rocked by months of increasingly violent protest and civil unrest.
Initially sparked by a proposed extradition bill, the protests have escalated to encompass demands for an inquiry into police actions and full democracy for the territory, which is part of China but enjoys some autonomy from the mainland.
Yet despite a dramatic drop in the expected crowd from last year’s attendance of 96,388, Sunday’s Longines Hong Kong International Races will go ahead as planned – and that itself is an achievement.
“We have toned down our marketing and advertising, so the attendance will be down considerably,” said William Nader, director of racing business and operations at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
“It won’t be 90,000 people, it might be half that, but it’s still going to look good. The attendance could be in the 40,000s.
“It is because of transportation mainly. There will be a protest in Victoria Park on Sunday. It will be big. People will be concerned about how they will get back home.”
Hong Kong racing is also available to watch on free-to-air television, online and at Happy Valley.
Nader added: “Of course, their preference would be to be here, but they need to have a plan B and I think a lot of people will implement their plan Bs.”
There must have been concerns for Sha Tin’s big day at some stage, but Nader said he never feared the international racecard would fall victim to the same fate as major tennis and golf tournaments.
“I never thought it wouldn’t happen,” he said. “But there were other people within the organisation who were probably more sensible than me and thought ‘we really have got to evaluate this.’
“Personally, I was involved in the 2001 Breeders Cup in New York right after 9/11. It was a different situation, but not completely dissimilar either.
“Six weeks after 9/11 we hosted the Breeders’ Cup at Belmont Park. I remember that clearly and it was very uplifting for everyone. It was a day when people within the horse racing community could smile again. They could go on with their lives and feel good.
“This is different. It is not going to have the same impact, but it is important to show that we are not going to lay down and say, ‘event cancelled.’ We are going to go on with it and it is going to happen without any interruption and disruption, the way we have always done it.”
Horse racing has somehow survived almost unscathed during these most turbulent of times, losing just a brace of Happy Valley fixtures last month. “If you are a protester in Hong Kong, horse racing is difficult to target because I think they know how connected people are to horse racing here and how the Jockey Club have contributed so much to the growth of Hong Kong through charity.
“We have also been very fair. We have not taken sides. We are not political in any way. We are here to provide racing and sporting entertainment.”
Racing in Hong Kong is most definitely different from everywhere else in the world and Sunday is supposed to showcase all that is good about the game.
There is more than £9 million in prize-money with four Group 1s containing 20 overseas raiders. Among that list are four Irish representatives and three from Britain. For the first time the Derby winner is in Hong Kong as Anthony Van Dyck will contest the Vase, possibly in blinkers.
The remarkable Magic Wand will have her 12th start of the year in the Cup. She began her gruelling campaign on January 26 in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park and ends it on a different continent over a different trip with a different jockey. Her durability and versatility know no bounds.
The awesome Aethero will be all the rage in the Sprint, while local hero Beauty Generation finally gets a chance to race off level weights in the Mile.
The world’s best miler is down after two defeats, but certainly not out and a 17th career success on Sunday would see him emulate Good Ba Ba by winning three Miles on the trot.
All those mentioned above have the power to pen a fairy tale – and boy does Hong Kong needs some sort of feel good story right now. – Racingpost.com