Local duo keen to take on world in first Asia masters
Star-studded line-up for HK event will feature 25 top riders vying for US$1m prize money
Leading local riders Kenneth Cheng Man-kit and Raena Leung Hou-ling will rub shoulders with the world's top equestrians at the inaugural Longines Hong Kong Masters.
They will be hoping a good showing in Asia's first CSI five-star showjumping event will boost their Hong Kong Jockey Club sponsorship hopes.
Organisers of the showpiece at AsiaWorld-Expo from February 28-March 2 yesterday unveiled a star-studded international cast that includes world number one Christian Ahlmann, from Germany, London Olympic gold medalist Ben Maher, from Britain, the world's leading female rider, Australia's Edwina Tops-Alexander, and former European champion Kevin Staut, from France.
A field of 25 riders will be competing for US$1 million prize money, and in the fray will be Cheng and Leung, who were picked by the Hong Kong Equestrian Federation to represent the city.
"I'm really excited to take part in an international show jumping event in Hong Kong after the 2008 Olympics," said Cheng, who has been competing in indoor events in Europe since September.
"Taking part in front of friends and family is always a huge boost and exciting, especially in indoor events where you have to go through a high-speed run in a small venue."
Eight of the world's top 10 riders and their horses have confirmed their participation in the event, which has received the support of the government's M-Mark scheme. Eighty horses will fly from Europe to Hong Kong a week before the event and stay in temporary stables.
The competition will take place over three days with a total of six classes, ranging from heights of 1.45 metres to 1.6 metres.
Organisers, who expect tickets to be sold out, are expecting up to 25,000 visitors, including 7,000 VIPs from around the world to add glamour to the event. The Hong Kong Masters will be the first round of the Masters Grand Slam Indoor in 2013.
Organiser EEM Asia vice-president Matthieu Gheysen said the organisers picked Hong Kong because it was an economic and cultural capital in Asia.
Gheysen said the organiser had only eight days to set up the venue.
Three vets will be on hand, one from Hong Kong and two from Europe.
"AsiaWorld-Expo is the only venue that is big enough, and it's close to the airport for easy management of the transport of the horses, he said.