Build and they'll come: fans flock to the tracks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2011, 12:00am


While chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges (pictured) continues to tread the conservative path and suggest wagering growth this season of 3 to 3.5 per cent, he has looked on in (joyous) amazement as Jockey Club racing customers have simply laughed at those estimates with three strong meetings.

Sunday's HK$150 million turnover jump was, by any measure, an unexpectedly powerful statement. But what has been more quietly pleasing for club officials is that each of the good turnover results has been in tandem with a strong attendance rise.

We suspected last season that much, if not all, of the gain in turnover was coming from external interest - offshore betting 'exchanges' and illegal bookmakers dumping back on to the Hong Kong pools late in the piece to cover their exposures, money leaking from mainland China - while attendance figures were sound but hardly on the rise.

Rising attendances at racecourses have benefits more difficult to quantify than the black and white of turnover numbers, including atmosphere, a bolstering of the argument that racing is still very much the favourite sport of Hongkongers and a solid justification of the billions being committed to on-course redevelopments.

We will watch with interest to see if the storm clouds which have been steadily gathering in the global financial world do burst and lead to an impact on turnover that makes Engelbrecht-Bresges' conservative estimates more accurate, but as long as people are turning up to see racing itself, there is a solid foundation with which to work longer term.