When the racing season kicks off at Sha Tin tomorrow afternoon, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is again looking ahead to a term of unrivalled excellence on the track but a fierce tussle off-course. On balance, the mood is positive, but the executive director of racing, Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, is the first to admit that it's another year of challenging times. 'Last season, legal soccer betting offered us a fresh challenge and this time we can add another rival again with the new Macau casino,' he said. 'It promises to be tougher again on the turnover front this term unless we can get the strong support of our government, but, with their assistance, I am hopeful the Jockey Club can rise to meet the increased competition.' On the track, Engelbrecht-Bresges believes Hong Kong racing's rise in world standing will continue. In terms of the sport of horseracing, I think Hong Kong is entering one of the most exciting years of its history,' he said. 'There is no doubt the economy is again on the rise and the optimism that follows this is already evident in the quality of the new imports. Our owners were very supportive of racing even during the difficult times and, now those pressures are easing, they are especially keen to buy top class horses.' Also in the offing is the opening of the magnificent covered parade ring, complete with sliding roof, at Sha Tin racecourse in November. 'The new parade ring will be one of the highlights of the season - it is really quite spectacular and will help to create a new experience for race fans,' he said. 'Especially when we stage the big events, like the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races in December, this wonderful improvement will help to create what I expect to be an amazing atmosphere. 'With this and a strong, quality sponsor like Cathay joining the club for HKIR in such a major way this season, I believe we are getting ever closer to our stated aim of holding an event which will be universally-regarded as the turf world championships of racing.'