Despair at Mega Events Fund snub
Jockey Club's Engelbrecht-Bresges mystified at rejection of cash support for five-star international showjumping event in Hong Kong
The Longines Hong Kong Masters has become the latest sporting event to be knocked back by the Mega Events Fund, leaving Hong Kong Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges scratching his head at the government agency's decision.
"I can't see the rationale behind the MEF turning down the bid for funding," said Engelbrecht-Bresges.
The Jockey Club will provide all the logistical and technical support for the event, at AsiaWorld Expo from February 21-23, centred around the welfare of the 66 horses involved.
Asia's only five-star international showjumping event will attract the world's top 25 riders and their mounts. In November, organisers said they were confident that their application for around HK$10 million would be successful, but it has joined golf's Hong Kong Open and the cricket Sixes in being rejected.
Unlike cricket and golf, the elite equestrian event is lucky in that it has a sponsor with pockets deep enough to put up US$1 million in prize money and pay for the show.
"In conjunction with the Hong Kong Equestrian Federation, we applied for support from the MEF in June last year but last month they informed us that it was unsuccessful," said Matthieu Gheysen, vice-president of EEM Asia, the main organisers. "It is disappointing as we were confident we would get funding."
Hong Kong Equestrian Federation general manager Angela Kong said: "The MEF said we didn't meet some of the requirements. But I also feel that they didn't want to support an event where the local sports association plays only a small role with the main responsibilities in the hands of commercial and private bodies."
Frenchman Patrice Delaveau will lead a world-class field of showjumpers, which will include four Olympic gold medallists, six world champions and five European champions. Delaveau dominated last year's event, winning four of the six competitions on stallion Lacrimoso 3 to take home nearly US$300,000.
"We have another fantastic show lined up this year which will attract the entire family from seven to 77," promised Christophe Ameeuw, chief executive of EEM World.
Apart from Delaveau, the field will include European champion Roger-Yves Bost, fellow Frenchman Kevin Staut, who finished third in the World Cup finals last year, Germany's multiple champion Ludger Beerbaum, British legend Michael Whitaker, Australian Edwina Tops-Alexander and Switzerland's Jane Richard Philips.
Hong Kong will be represented by Kenneth Cheng Man-kit, who is part of the Hong Kong Jockey Club-sponsored local equestrian team. Last year the senior team were backed to the tune of HK$17 million for the next three-and-a-half years.
"I'm looking forward to my second appearance at the Hong Kong Masters. Last year was a great experience and I felt like a rock star with the fans getting behind me," said Cheng.
"Taking part in the company of all these great riders is a massive honour and I know I can benefit from it."