Horse racing

Betting down but Year of the Horse is still a winner at Sha Tin racetrack

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 3:59am

The weather was kind, the sport stirring and the crowd enthusiastic as the Year of the Horse raced in at Sha Tin.

And even if there weren't the fireworks of last year there were songs, fung shui and even a punch-up.

The official crowd was 20,000 down on last year's Lunar New Year event and betting was also down, but the Jockey Club's chief executive, Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, wasn't fazed.

"We scaled down our marketing, because 112,000 last year was just too many people coming through the gates for the gifts and giveaways. It isn't only about numbers - we have to consider how comfortable the experience is," he said.

"And I think 91,000 people was a really good crowd, and there was a great atmosphere."

Even the HK$20 million drop in betting turnover was met with objective reflection, after a HK$300 million rise in 2013.

"We had to return HK$42 million for late scratchings, which would have put us just past 2013, but that huge increase last year set us a very high base - today's figures by any normal measurement were outstanding," he said.

The chief executive gave out lai see while Akeed Mofeed and Canto-pop idol Aaron Kwok Fu-shing provided the star power.

Trainer Richard Gibson admitted having made a "brave decision" to run Akeed Mofeed in the Centenary Vase and was as much relieved as impressed when the stallion came first. Gibson had warned that the horse was only 85 per cent fit.

"I think sometimes, in this situation, you have more to lose than to win by running in a race like that, with so much public expectation that he'll win. But it came down to the horse needing to race to keep him fit for the Gold Cup. In the end, I thought it was one of his best performances."

The same might have been said of Kwok's galloper Calling With Love - close but no cigar in finishing third - but the singer's army of fans seemed not to care, crushing around Kwok and his security detail.

They could have come in handy in the public section when a disagreement boiled over and punches were thrown. The favourite on looks finished second before police stepped in.