By Robert Kieckhefer
The Hong Kong Jockey Club is taking a "wait and see" approach to an international race meeting planned for October in southwest China, but stands ready to help with any mainland effort that gains traction, officials said April 26.
During World Cup week in Dubai, officials of the Dubai-based Meydan Group and Chinese authorities announced the concept—but few details—for the meeting in Chengdu in the Sichuan Province. The plan, they said, is to start with a one-day racing carnival using existing facilities and eventually grow that into an entire breeding and racing infrastructure.
A spokesman said earlier this week that planning continues but no further specifics have been announced.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rasheed al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and master of the Godolphin racing operation, lent his personal stamp of approval to the project by meeting with the Chinese delegation two days before the World Cup.
Sheikh Mohammed and Meydan officials cited their record of accomplishment in Dubai, without wagering as a financial base, as evidence they can make a go of creating a similar racing establishment in cooperation with local Chinese officials and the support of the central government.
"If Sheikh Mohammed believes he can create a race meeting in mainland China, we wish him well," said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
But Engelbrecht-Bresges said the project is extremely ambitious, involving creation from scratch of administration, regulation, quarantine procedures and facilities ranging from physical plant to veterinary care and farriers. That process, he said, will take years.
"We think it is very important to build the necessary capability," he said, adding there could be several pilot projects before the concept takes hold and grows on the mainland.
Engelbrecht-Bresges said the HKJC currently is concentrating its mainland effort on construction of a training center at Conghua, about two hours north of Hong Kong. That facility is not intended to be used for racing, he said, but could serve as a blueprint for development of the infrastructure being discussed for Chengdu.
The HKJC is enjoying record attendance and wagering during its current meeting and is one of the largest employers, taxpayers and philanthropic organizations in the Special Administrative Region. So it has much at stake in any change in the Chinese racing landscape.
Yet, Engelbrecht-Bresges said, "I would not speculate whether this would be good for Hong Kong racing."
He added, "If the central government wants us to help, we will be here."