Nearly all of Hong Kong’s Group races will be thrown open to international competition from the start of next season in a watershed move for the status of the existing international features.
Currently, 14 races in Hong Kong are open to international competition, 11 Group Ones and three Group Twos, but that will expand to 31 races in the 2016-17 season.
The only Group races which will remain domestic will be the three Group Ones restricted to four-year-olds and the Group Three Hong Kong Macau Trophy, a total of 17 Group events will be promoted under the plan and all ratings bands for the new international races run under handicaps will disappear in accordance with international requirements.
“The Asian Pattern Committee, which met this week in Mumbai at the Asian Racing Conference, was delighted with the decision of the club to open these races and sees this as a major step in the development of the globalisation of Hong Kong racing,” said Tony Kelly, Jockey Club executive director of Racing Business and Operations.
“There will be some differences for, say, any horses coming for the National Day Cup as opposed to the Longines Hong Kong International Races.
“There would not be travel incentives, for example, for a Group Three handicap race like the National Day Cup, but we do have the quarantine facilities available to accommodate anyone who chooses to come for such a race.”
Kelly said that, despite the wholesale opening up of the black type programme to outside horses, the club was not expecting a huge rush of foreign runners.
“It’s more about it being a logical progression for Hong Kong in line with the direction the club has made in recent years,” he said.
“If you look at other countries in the region like Australia or Japan, a great many Group races in those jurisdictions are open to international competition but never get any visiting runners.
“For us, the high number of horses in the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings and the number of our Group Ones in the World’s Top 100 Group One Races are indications of our growth and we see this as a continuation of that journey.”
The significance for the established international races is not immediately obvious from this move, however, it is surely linked to the requirements of international stud books.
At present, Hong Kong is in Part Two of the breeding industry’s Blue Book, meaning that Group races here might only regarded as Listed standard for breeding and sale cataloguing purposes, thus keeping Hong Kong’s significance in the breeding world to that of a very marginal player.
By opening up all of the Group events to international level, Hong Kong puts itself in a position to be elevated to Part One of the stud book and its Group One, Two and Three races given a much higher recognition in the breeding world.
That would mean a win at the Hong Kong International Races, for example, would add significant value to a stallion or mare’s value in the breeding barn.
It therefore has potential to attract foreign owners in December, or for any of the other majors, who might otherwise have bypassed Sha Tin as not being significant in their horse’s residual worth.
If that elevation from Book Two were to occur, Hong Kong would be the only Part One jurisdiction without its own breeding industry.
All but one of Hong Kong’s Group Ones, the Centenary Sprint Cup, is not already an international Group One and Kelly admitted that the level at which the races are recognised on an international level may not be the same as the domestic level, depending on the official calculation of race ratings.
“We thought it prudent to identify the change for the long-term planning of the connections of both local connections and potential overseas runners, which is why we are announcing it now,” Kelly said.
“But, yes, there is still more work to be done in the coming months connected to this update and some of the exact adjustments are not final.”