Just as many Hongkongers are going about their daily routine blissfully unaware that the East Asian Games are drawing to a close today, similarly others won't know it's the biggest horse-racing day of the year. However, for many, the thought of having a flutter at Sha Tin will outshine even the best efforts of 2004 Olympic gold medallist Liu Xiang in the 110 metre hurdles, but to say that is all the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races have to offer is way off the mark. For the uninitiated, 1989 marked the start of the Hong Kong Cup event over 2,000 metres, which was initially called the Hong Kong Invitation Cup and was restricted to horses from Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. The race quickly gained attention and was gradually opened to horses from other countries. Starting in 1991, other races were gradually added to the programme - the Hong Kong Mile (1,600 metres), the Hong Kong Vase (2,400 metres) and the Hong Kong Sprint (1,200 metres) - and today horses from all over the world compete in the races. Some of the world's best horses run over a variety of distances and compete for total prize money of HK$62 million in four Group One races. Word of mouth as much as anything else has taken the event to the next level. 'This operation is run very, very efficiently. Overseas trainers and owners are made to feel welcome - the red carpet has really been rolled out over the years - and it has made a big impact,' Hong Kong bloodstock agent Dan O'Donnell said. 'The trainers who have been here before have gone back [to their countries] and given Hong Kong huge kudos, which has encouraged others to come out. This has seen the standard of horses racing here continually improve each season.' O'Donnell arranged the sale of Helene Mascot to Hong Kong, who went on to win the 2008 Hong Kong Derby, so it was high praise indeed, while Racing Club manager Mark Richards was equally enthusiastic. 'It's one of the greatest race meetings in the world and one of the best sporting occasions in Hong Kong. It's going from strength to strength each year,' he said. Like the Breeders' Cup in the United States and the Festival of Racing in Dubai, the Hong Kong International Races are a crucial fixture in the world racing calendar. It's an event that has risen to the top thanks to the excellence of the product and one that shows no sign of ending up in the knacker's yard any time soon.