Lai See

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 March, 2010, 12:00am

Dubai splashes the cash with racing extravaganza

As Hong Kong was enjoying a weekend of brilliant rugby and raucous partying, bankrupt Dubai briefly returned to lavish opulence. The new Meydan Racecourse put on the most expensive single day of racing in history on Saturday.

They had already spent a fortune building the new racecourse. At some US$1.25 billion, the racecourse and grandstand, measuring 76 million square feet, is humongous. Those who attended the weekend extravaganza said the grandstand was so huge that it could easily be mistaken for an airport terminal.

Then they put up US$26.5 million in prize money, but offered no legalised gambling, meaning there were no revenues on opening night. The organisers said it was all about putting on a brilliant show, not about money. Lai See is sure it's just for one night.

Besides offering a night of world-class horseracing, Meydan staged an evening of glamorous entertainment featuring the legendary Elton John and Santana, who performed live after the races.

Then came the grand finale: an enormous fireworks display, even bigger and noisier than any of Hong Kong's Chinese New Year celebrations. So, who says Dubai is going bankrupt?

Closer to home, we definitely need to crack the whip and boost our investment in Happy Valley and Sha Tin. Besides upgrading the facilities, a major hurdle needs to be removed - Hong Kong's 72.5 per cent gross profits tax on wagering revenues, which come to more than HK$8 billion annually.

A visiting American senior racing executive told Lai See we should never forget the Jockey Club has a superb business model that racing clubs around the world want to replicate.

If we don't improve our competitiveness, other cities will leave us in the dust. This is a gamble we can't afford to lose.

Huge investment in Horse City

Still on racing; Dubai's state-owned builder, Meydan, has announced a joint venture with a Chinese investment company to develop the Tianjin Horse City on the mainland over the next 10 years.

The proposed horse city, estimated to cost about US$4 billion, will occupy 3 million square metres of land, which will be provided by the central government.

The project will have two components - the racing facility and a development that will include a luxury hotel, a clubhouse, commercial and residential facilities in addition to an equestrian college and breeding farms.

When asked about how much money Dubai will commit to the project, Meydan's commercial director, Mohammad Al Khayat, was slightly evasive, saying that financial details haven't yet been fully evaluated.

He believed the residential and commercial components would be able to raise capital for the project.

Now we know why Dubai is known as a city of dreams. Just dream on!

Tyler has time for tune or two

Cathay Pacific Airways chief executive Tony Tyler is a man of many talents.

Besides being a busy boss running a company of 20,000 in Hong Kong, he managed to learn to speak Italian. Now we hear he plays the guitar and sings in a band called Night Flight.

We are told Tyler has quite an impressive repertoire, but Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight is one of his favourites.

Night Flight occasionally performs at private parties. Lai See has noticed some interesting lyrics from Led Zeppelin's song of the same name. 'Make me feel all right. Fly now, baby ... fly now, baby.'

Tyler once said: 'I've been with Cathay Pacific for virtually all my working life and I count my blessings every day.'

We have no doubt the airline business is in your blood, Tony!

Student solutions

Don't be surprised if you hear next month that the global financial crisis has been 'resolved' by a bunch of university students.

On April 15, a group of 15 students from six countries will battle it out in Paris in the final round of the 'Ace Manager' competition organised by BNP Paribas.

The finalists were selected from a previous round of online competition, which attracted some 8,000 students from 98 countries.

In the final challenge, the students, divided into five teams, will need to tackle a wide range of simulated financial problems.

The bank hopes the contest can showcase 'in a light-hearted way' the central role bankers play in financing their customers' plans in the real economy.

Lai See suspects that customers who lost their life savings in the financial crisis will disagree that light-hearted is the correct attitude. Maybe exercising caution is more appropriate.