'We want to be a world leader and to support our objective we have raised the total prize-money to $54 million'
The Hong Kong Jockey Club yesterday injected $14 million into its International races in its quest to turn the December showpiece into the 'turf world championships'.
The Hong Kong Cup, the main event on the programme, is now worth $18 million - making it the second-richest turf race in the world and the richest at 2,000 metres. The three other races on International Day have also been raised dramatically as Jockey Club chiefs continue their drive to attract the best horses in the world and make Hong Kong a global leader.
The Hong Kong Mile now carries a stake of $14 million, while $8 million is up for grabs in the Hong Kong Sprint (1,000 metres). Both events are the world's richest at their designated distances.
The Hong Kong Vase has also been boosted to $14 million and is now the world's fourth-ranked 2,400-metre race, moving ahead of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Europe's leading all-aged contest. The Cup, Vase and Mile have all been raised $4 million, while the Sprint purse has gone up by $2 million.
The increases were announced in a Jockey Club package that will raise Hong Kong's annual prize-money by $38 million to $638 million. That represents an increase of 6.3 per cent, with most of the extra money pumped into the showpiece events rather than being used for across-the-board increases.
Away from the International meeting, which will be held this year on December 16, there is also a $4 million boost for next year's Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup. The international Group One event will be worth $14 million, ranking it second only to the Hong Kong Cup among the world's 2,000-metre races on turf. And, domestically, the Hong Kong Derby will also be worth $14 million, again a rise of $4 million and putting it ahead of the English and Kentucky Derbys.
'We want to be a world leader in horseracing and betting entertainment and to support our objective we have raised the total prize-money for our four International races to $54 million, reaffirming International Day at Sha Tin as one of the leading meetings in the world,' said the Club's director of racing, Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges.
'Our aim is to develop International Day into the turf world championships. We want to continue to attract the best horses, especially to the Hong Kong Cup, which is the final leg of the Emirates World Series. We believe our International meeting is the best sporting event in Hong Kong and one of the major sporting and racing events in the world.'
And for Hong Kong owners, the stakes are literally higher with the continuation of a 50 per cent bonus in prize-money earned by Hong Kong-trained horses in the International events.
'Our overall philosophy is to lift the standards of Hong Kong racing and by offering this kind of incentives, we hope to encourage Hong Kong owners to go out and get the kind of horses who will be able to win the big races,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
The 29 per cent increase for the Hong Kong Cup (US$2.3 million) makes it the fourth-richest race in the world, behind only the Dubai World Cup (US$6 million, on dirt), Japan Cup (US$4.3 million) and Breeders' Cup Classic (US$4 million, on dirt).
International Day will still lag behind the total stakes offerings of the Dubai World Cup meeting and Breeders' Cup day in the United States, but Engelbrecht-Bresges ruled out the introduction of additional high-stakes turf or dirt races which might put Hong Kong's showpiece in more direct competition with those fixtures.
'I believe we have the right mix of internationally-recognised championship distances within these four races,' he said. 'And we have no intention of introducing any races for the dirt, which would be lifting the wrong end of our business.
'We have a fairly limited depth in our own dirt horses in Hong Kong, so we could really only hope to attract horses from the United States and Dubai for such races. And if you look at the dirt races at Dubai's World Cup meeting, in terms of numbers they were poorly patronised by the Americans.'
The Hong Kong Mile has been raised by 40 per cent, to US$1.8 million, inspired by the thrilling clash of Fairy King Prawn and Sunline in last year's contest. 'After such an exciting race, we believed the Hong Kong Mile offered us the chance to stage the world's best mile race every year and it has been given appropriate prize-money so that we attract the best horses,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said. That race now heads the Yasuda Kinen (US$1.7 million) and Breeders' Cup Mile (US$1 million) among international Group One events over 1,600 metres.
Prize-money for the Hong Kong Sprint moves up by 33 per cent, which will make it the world standard for 1,000 metres - and the Jockey Club is expecting an imminent upgrading to Group Two status for the most recent addition to International Day.
'We have an application in process now to upgrade this race to a Group Two event, and that decision is likely to come in midsummer,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said. 'Our average rating for the race last year was 113, which should easily justify a higher classification.'
The Hong Kong Derby prize-money is up by 40 per cent and another major domestic event, the Hong Kong Classic Mile, receives a towering 78 per cent increase to $8 million, giving the race a new profile as a distinct target rather than a Derby lead-up.