Booming start matches high expectations
Optimistic predictions of a strong start to the season have been met by booming betting and attendance figures at the opening two meetings for 2011-12.
A combined 80,596 fans packed into the two tracks in the first week of the season, an increase of 24 per cent on the corresponding meetings last year, contributing to a massive leap in turnover. Sha Tin's season-opener attracted 62,366 spectators last Sunday, while more than 15,000 enjoyed the party atmosphere of Happy Valley on Wednesday night, with outstanding betting figures for both meetings.
'The forecast was that this would be our best September in 10 years, and the first two meetings have lived up to expectations,' executive director of racing Bill Nader said.
Nader said the main factor behind the solid increases in turnover was simple: more horses ready to race.
Last season saw an increase from 78 to 83 meetings and the shortest off-season in history. Nader said trainers were better prepared for this year's season opener, which was also a week later, and that resulted in bigger fields, and therefore, more turnover.
'They [trainers] seem to have a better grasp of the expanded season and the expanded horse population means there are more horses available to race at the start of the season,' he said.
Sha Tin's entries for last Sunday were up to 128 from 106, and Wednesday's meeting saw numbers rise from 81 to 96. The results showed in betting, Sha Tin drew HK$911 million, best opening-day turnover in 10 years. Lively betting on Wednesday night attracted over HK$718 million in wagers, again a substantial increase on the corresponding fixture in 2010-11. A circumspect Nader stopped short of predicting the results were indicative of what lied ahead for the new season.
'It's a terrific start,' he said. 'I think the trend will continue right through September ... it will come out as the best September in terms of business results from the racing side in 10 years. But when we finish September we still have 77 meetings to go, so I don't want to put too much weight on September, but it certainly is a bonus.'