THE corporate world was wholeheartedly embraced with the news that prominent Taiwan-based businessman Lawrence Wong will be the new chief executive of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club. His appointment may be seen by some as a watershed in that he is the first Chinese supremo. In reality it is no more than the culmination of changes over the past two decades - and especially over the past few years. It is also recognition that the sport has spawned a major commercial enterprise. The impetus for the tremendous growth in betting turnover - and thus donations to charity and other business and property activities - came when racing turned professional in the early 1970s. But the growth remained latent for many years. It was not until the present chief executive, Major-General Guy Watkins, joined the Jockey Club some 10 years ago that the momentum began to build. General Watkins has been a driving force behind the growth in betting turnover, prize money, crowd figures, commercial activities and the overall international standing of the club. So Mr Wong's appointment is not a break with the past, it is a direct result of the past, especially the Watkins era. The club may administer a sport but it has become a multi-billion dollar corporate structure with many diversified interests. Given that General Watkins was retiring, the club needed to find a chief executive who was a successful international businessman rather than one with a direct knowledge of horse racing. Mr Wong fits the bill perfectly. Running the club should be easier than running the Ford Lio Ho Motor Company in Taiwan. Why? Because the Jockey Club enjoys a monopoly. It provides the only legalised form of gambling, has its income virtually guaranteed and has a redeveloped Happy Valley track likely to be the envy of the racing world. Mr Wong must plot a successful corporate strategy, but he must also be a sage and skilful delegator. By his own admission at a press conference in Taiwan yesterday, he lacks a detailed knowledge of racing. What he must not lack is a detailed knowledge of people. In the overall running of the club, his corporate and business skills should more than compensate for his ignorance of racing matters with one crucial proviso - he must appoint the right management staff. The sandmesh surface at Sha Tin may well be past its sell-by date, the labour situation is unsatisfactory, the entry system is archaic, the stipendiary stewards panel has come in for much criticism and still has amateurs officiating on race days, and the club's attempts to develop its own television programmes have failed. Mr Wong cannot be expected to address these issues but his staff must. FACTS AND FIGURES TWO racetracks are operated. Sha Tin is the only course operating and held 50 meetings last season while Happy Valley was undergoing renovations. Racetrack attendances average 47,400. A HUGE network handles bets. There are 125 off-course betting branches issuing 4.6 million tickets a meeting and another 58,000 customer input terminals are used. SOME 6,090 horses ran in races in the year to the end of June and there are 814 owners.