Farewell Happy Valley, hello Sha Tin dirt racing
The curtain came down at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, the stars of the show – headlined by Caspar Fownes and Zac Purton – took their final bows to the cheers of the punters, and the production packed up, not to be seen until October.
There wasn’t even time for an encore – within minutes of the final race, the forecourt of the grandstand was unrecognisable.
Sha Tin may be the home of the purist, with better horses and racing, but off-track there is nothing to match Happy Valley – not just in Hong Kong, but worldwide.
“I feel like I’m in Manhattan – it’s almost like if Central Park had a racetrack,” said American jockey Mike Smith in December.
“The most impressive horse-racing track in the world...with a fizz of excitement that few other sporting venues can ever hope to generate,” said English travel writer (and son of an Epsom Derby-winning jockey) Will Hide.
At Happy Valley, the racegoer is right amongst the action, whether you’re in the beer garden or up in the Racing Club on the seventh floor.
It’s perhaps the only racecourse in the world where the roar of the crowd will suggest they’ve jumped in a Group One, only to discover it’s in fact a woeful Class Five. It’s definitely the only racetrack to have blended in so seamlessly with a burgeoning metropolis.
Sha Tin may be the heart of Hong Kong racing, but Happy Valley provides the soul.
The city track is being dug up as part of a stormwater storage project to prevent flooding during heavy rain, and the Jockey Club is using the break as an opportunity to complete some of its own infrastructure projects, including upgrading the lighting system.
It was always going to happen at some stage, but it doesn’t make the next few weeks any easier – nor will it make the start of next season much more bearable either, with the first meeting back at the Valley slated for a Sunday day meeting on October 19.
Instead of the buoyant party atmosphere at Happy Valley, we now have to look forward to the next three Wednesday night meetings at a lifeless Sha Tin – both on and off the track.
Two are mixed, with races on both turf and dirt, but one is solely on the all-weather track (AWT), or as we call it, the awful-weather track, for the shocking racing it throws up.
That said, the turf races won’t be much better, with two Class Threes, two Class Fours and a Class Five.
There were two Sha Tin night meetings earlier this season – one purely on the dirt and one mixed. The mixed meeting set the bar rather high, given the two turf winners were first-starter Divine Ten – admittedly in Class Four – and Class Two winner Amber Sky.
Instead of potential Group winners down the straight, we have to endure a Class Five. There’s only been one of those this year, and even against the low benchmark of Class Fives in general, it was pathetic.
Off the track, it’s even more diabolical. The large grandstand doesn’t cater well to midweek meetings, as the crowd feels far more sparse than at the weekend.
Still, all is not lost for Happy Valley fans. The horses may not be there, but the party goes on at the city track. The beer garden is missing – the forecourt has been ripped up – but Happy Wednesday lives on with cross-betting from Sha Tin.
Up on a terrace in the grandstand, there will be an enclave which keeps the spirit of Happy Valley going. The entertainment will be the same, the beer as cheap as always – who needs the horses? In fact, the crowd is likely to outnumber those at Sha Tin.
It’s enough to forego the taxi ride to Sha Tin on a Wednesday night, battling peak-hour traffic through the tunnel, and instead remain at Happy Valley.