Some 16,000 fans braved a morning downpour to watch four races that highlighted the China Horse Club's sixth annual Chinese Equine Cultural Festival Aug. 20 at Yiqi Racecourse in the northern China region of Inner Mongolia.
Skies cleared in time for the races, interspersed among a series of cultural performances that began with a traditional dragon dance. In addition to the on-track attendance, CHC officials said some 2 million people watched the day's events via a live streaming internet presentation.
The festivities are designed in large part to bring together members of the CHC and demonstrate the progress the organization has made in advancing the cause of racing in China.
While the CHC has been successful with its horse ownership overseas—notably this year with Abel Tasman's victory in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) in its red and yellow silks—it still faces an uphill battle to improve the status of the sport on the Chinese mainland. While racing is conducted at sites around China, it is low-key and betting on the races is not permitted.
"We have to understand, for 65 years, there was no racing," Teo Ah Khing, founder and chairman of the club said in an interview before the race day. "We have to understand that. And things have opened up for the last couple years. And we have been here for the last four or five years."
He said the club hopes to expand its ownership model significantly in the coming years to create a demand for horses that will support the breeding industry that is part of the Yiqi concept. That can happen, he said, without an immediate turn to wagering.
"We have been systematically, step-by-step, introducing the concept of racing and other matters. Betting is in, on, and around the agenda, but not on the main agenda as of now. But we never forget that. We never forget that. It will be gravy—as a bonus."
A team of four foreign jockeys held their own in the races, winning two, including the featured 2,000-meter (about 10-furlong) CECF North Dakota Classic. North Dakota, a son of Galileo, won the Chinese Triple Crown and is China's featured stallion.
Hales, an Australian-bred gelding by Haradasun, drew off in the stretch to win that race under South Africa's Sherman Brown. Australia-based Daniel Moor booted home the winner of the first race, Ordos Coat, a New Zealand-bred gelding by Coat's Choice.
Seymour, a New Zealand-bred mare by Fast 'N' Famous, took the day's second race under local rider Zhang Ruirui and Liu Sanping rode the winner of the third event, a French-bred gelding named Villequier, by Footstepsinthesand.
"The horses have improved," said Moor, who also rode in last year's CECF. "This horse today has the potential to be a star in China."
Russian rider Alexander Ivanskoy and Sheldon Rodrigo, who represented Trinidad and Tobago, were winless in their four mounts. Ivanskoy was the second Russian rider in the history of the CECF. Rodrigo was the first from his jurisdiction.
Last year's festival, blessed with sunny skies and a boost from a biennial local sports celebration, drew a crowd of 20,000.