by Murray Bell
A last-minute hitch that kept Las Vegas horseplayers from trying their luck on Hong Kong races failed to dilute a champagne opening of the new season Sept. 9 at Sha Tin racecourse.
In fact, horse racing enjoyed a spectacular return from its summer slumber at Sha Tin, with an all-star jockey cast playing before the biggest opening-day crowd since the handover of Asia’s World City back to China a decade ago.
Attendance was up 60% to 63,566 from the corresponding day last year, and handle increased 12.5% to HK$825 million. However, there was no news on the results of the commingling of pools with Las Vegas casinos due to a legal complication that only saw the casinos get final approval Sept. 7.
“Consequently, these first two weeks of commingling will not be much more than test meetings, but once our partners in Nevada have had time to properly promote the service, I think we can look forward to some promising results,” said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s chief executive officer.
Despite that disappointment, Engelbrecht-Bresges could scarcely do anything other than acclaim the day a success.
“This has been a brilliant start to the season, and ut gives us a great platform which to go forward,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said. “This has been the biggest opening day crowd since 1997, up 24,000 on last year, and the betting figures have been very strong, too. Our customers really appreciated the novelty of the trainers’ race at the start of the day, and I must give full credit to (executive director of racing) Bill Nader--this was his idea and it really worked.
“We had 38,500 people here more than half an hour before the first (wagering) race to see the trainers do battle, and it gave our customers exactly what we hoped for--a combination of fun and sport.”
It also marked the first day children of owners were permitted to come to the races in Hong Kong.
“The Racehorse Owners Association has been at us for some time to allow their members to bring their children to the races when their horse is running,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said. “It was an entirely reasonable request and one we have acceded to. We stepped up our security measures to ensure the children have no access to gambling.”