Hong Kong Jockey Club officials expect an even bigger betting handle for Sunday's Lunar New Year meeting to help usher in the Year of the Horse, but stopped short of predicting a record crowd after last year’s bumper holiday fixture.
A massive crowd of 118,864 welcomed the Year of the Snake by betting a record HK$1.5 billion 12 months ago, and with turnover up around 10 per cent this season, Jockey Club executive director of racing Bill Nader expects the hold to be in excess of $1.6 billion for the 11-race card.
“We do not expect to break that attendance record, but still, over 100,000 is realistic and the forecast is $1.62 billion in turnover,” he said.
The Lunar New year meeting is the club’s biggest day both in terms of turnover and attendance, and the huge crowd creates a unique atmosphere. Whether there is any flow on to racing from this year being the Year of the Horse remains to be seen, but Nader is hopeful.
“I guess that is the wildcard as far as the crowd goes,” he said. “You can feel people around Hong Kong rallying to the Year of the Horse, and I think that is going to be a good thing for us over the year,” added Nader.
“If you want to celebrate the Year of the Horse then Sha Tin is the probably the best place to do it and it only happens once every 12 years.” Personally I don’t think there is a better place on Earth to spend the third day of Chinese New Year than Sha Tin Racecourse, and obviously a lot of people agree. There’s such a huge crowd right from the beginning, even from race one there are already 60,000-plus people, which is impressive to see. It’s great to get caught up in that adrenaline.”
There is some quality racing to go with the huge betting numbers too, with Group One Hong Kong Cup winner Akeed Mofeed lining up in the Group Three Centenary Vase. Trainer Richard Gibson is planning to take the stallion to the rich Dubai World Cup meeting next month, and his run on Sunday will help determine which races he contests.
Meanwhile, Trevor Cruz, son of HK trainer Derek Cruz, won his first race as a trainer on Saturday when Packing Tycoon scored in a Benchmark 85 at Te Rapa in New Zealand. Packing Tycoon, owned by Edmond Lee Man-bun, was da Cruz’s third starter – the first two finishing third and second respectively. “I’m a proud dad and we are very happy for him,” Cruz said. “He had been knocking on the door and has worked very hard for this. He has a team of 20 at Cambridge and has really taken his time. I have been down there and ridden some trackwork for him in the off-season and in last few weeks, I’m sure he is going to do well.”