'Bigger and better' is HKIR goal
The Jockey Club will not rest on its laurels after Sunday's successful 2011 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races, and chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges says there is 'a unique opportunity' to raise the meeting to an even higher global profile.
Without a single, defining championship performance to hang them on, the four international Group One events nevertheless showcased some great racing, watched by a big local crowd and a huge worldwide audience and the day proved a considerable turnover success as well.
'With 14,000 people working on the day and planning for months in advance by more than 200 people, this week is a big project but there is great satisfaction for everyone that it turns out the way it did on Sunday,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said. 'I believe it was the best CXHKIR yet and we had guests at the meeting from outside of racing, including the International Olympic Committee, who thought it was an absolutely fantastic event. Still, I think there is a unique opportunity to make it even better.'
And the way forward will rely on one familiar word: money.
'A number of European trainers and owners told me that, if our prizemoney was increased then many of them would be happy to bypass the Breeders' Cup to come here, where everything is very well organised and conducted and the playing field is a level one, ' Engelbrecht-Bresges said, a veiled reference to drug rules in the US.
'And we will reassess our prizemoney, but we cannot finance that from the betting turnover on the day, as significant as it is. There are two areas where we will look at the possibilities - one, which we have had as an ongoing issue, commingling, and the other is through examining our sponsorship avenues. We have many of the world's top owners targeting out races now and we can make this the meeting if we lift the stakes offered.'
Engelbrecht-Bresges said that the government's continued failure to act on commingling was highlighted on such days, when the piecemeal pari-mutuel betting in other countries already amounted to eight per cent of the club's returns for the day, but the 'unregistered market' of offshore bookmakers operating on the meeting would make that figure more, if it could be redirected to the Hong Kong home pool.
'I think everyone saw on Sunday the betting value creation of horses from different jurisdictions, that were maybe underbet by our local fans but would be supported strongly by fans in their home country if they could access the odds on offer here in bigger pools,' he said. 'And that would have a multiplying effect on the amounts already being bet, legally and illegally, around the world on our international races. But we need government support for this.'
Part of the prizemoney review will be a look at not only raising the winners' rewards but to paying prizemoney further back than sixth place to defray those expenses for visitors which are not met by the club.
'It costs HK$200,000 to declare for these races and also the owners bear the insurance costs of bringing horses here and insurance is a rising cost,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said. 'I think it is recognised now that it is not easy to come here and win, so our prizemoney structure should reflect that and offer more chances to gain prizemoney and limit the damage, even in defeat.'
The chief executive did not believe that a reversion to a 1,000m Hong Kong Sprint would serve any useful purpose.
'Some people have suggested the 1,200m is too draw-oriented but our own statistics on the A course suggest it is quite even,' he said. 'This year, the effect of the draw was probably exaggerated by having pace horses drawn wide.
'We changed the distance several years ago from 1,000m to 1,200m for the very reason that we were struggling to get horses to come for a straight 1,000m course that was perceived as advantaging the Hong Kong horses, so I don't think changing back would be a good idea.'