Interport races have run out of steam

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 April, 2009, 12:00am

For an idea symptomatic of what was described at the time as an unprecedented level of co-operation between the Hong Kong and Macau racing jurisdictions, the interport events must now have come full circle.

How else could anyone describe the programming of Sunday's race at Taipa?

Of all the days in the year available, someone - presumably from the Macau Jockey Club - chose the day before a Hong Kong holiday meeting for this year's Macau Hong Kong Trophy in a move that smelt strongly of a desire to kill off the event.

It was certainly guaranteed to minimise any press coverage.

The interport races don't seem to inspire a huge amount of excitement from officials on this side of the Pearl River delta, and only ever held some sort of novelty value. But, since the benefits of cross-jurisdictional competition were Macau's anyway, we might have expected a healthier attitude from the Taipa side.

One of the positives for Macau was that, by competing with Hong Kong horses which had a recognised international standard, horses from Macau could also be measured for international ratings. That in turn opened the way to international competition in places like Dubai, where Macau horses have performed well.

Perhaps these interport races have passed their use-by date, or perhaps the lack of enthusiasm even from the beneficiary is now symptomatic of Macau racing's general decline.

In the five years since the interport races began, Macau racing has fizzled away to a sorry shadow of its former self, most obviously shown by its racehorse population being down by more than half to a miserable 500 or so.

During the boom time after the arrival of foreign casino entities, virtually everything in Macau thrived - except for racing. Now that businesses are hitting harder times, there is precious little risk that Macau's horse racing will buck the trend.

Its decline will more likely gather pace and, with the writing splashed on every available wall, we hear that some important people at Taipa are already making plans to abandon ship before the iceberg hits.

This column has often posited the concept of Hong Kong Jockey Club buying Macau racing as a second-tier satellite, and the club did investigate that possibility around the time the interports were first announced.

There would be clear benefits to such a purchase as a training ground, even as a business itself. For some time, it was thought officials at Sports Road were simply waiting for Macau racing to hit a point where it could be picked up for a bargain basement price.

But the most recent response to such an idea from any Jockey Club official was more along the lines of 'they'd have to pay us to take it.'