[Sponsored Article] Hong Kong’s “season like no other” ended at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 15 July. The Club navigated the uncertainty of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic decisively, implementing measures that protected public and employee health, and enabled the sport to continue. By being agile and engaged, the Club had been able to complete a full season; particularly at a time when sports and sporting events in other parts of the world had either been cancelled or substantially scaled back. Hong Kong racing closed its doors to the public at an early juncture to comply with government directions and regulations. Attendance limits were first introduced for the Chinese New Year meeting and subsequently adjusted in line with Government requirements. The deepest impact was between March and April, which saw attendance reduced from an average of 22,000 before the outbreak to around 300, with only trainers, jockeys, essential officials and owners with starters present. Temperature checks, face masks, health declaration forms and stringent social distancing were all mandatory, as was regular testing of jockeys. Nonetheless, racing fans were able to seamlessly watch and wager on every race, through the Club’s robust online and mobile channels. The uptake for its digital services has been strong. For example, within three months of the Club’s launch of the Faster Payment System in February 2020, more than 200,000 customers had signed up. Additionally, racing has served to provide valuable stay-at-home entertainment for about one-seventh of the local population at a time of social distancing. Racing goes on As a result, racing turnover this racing season fell just 2.6% to HK$121.6 billion, still the third-highest ever despite COVID-19 placing severe pressure on domestic wagering in Hong Kong. Racing contributed HK$12.1 billion in betting duty to the Government. Club Chairman Philip N L Chen said the past season was one of the finest in the Club’s history, which earned the Club admiration and recognition around the world, “While other sports shut down, including horse racing in many countries, Hong Kong raced on. In doing so we provided essential tax and charity support to our community. The Club has lived up to its purpose - the Betterment of Society. ” Yet the Club’s ability to donate to the community via its Charities Trust depends on its underlying business results. The Club can only achieve this by maintaining healthy business growth. A key enabler of the Club’s world-class racing and its future growth is The Hong Kong Jockey Club Conghua Racecourse. Together with the Club’s training centre at Sha Tin, Conghua operates as part of a dual-site model, with horses moving between the two sites regularly. This movement has continued effectually during the pandemic. Horses trained at the state-of-the-art facility have scored 139 victories this season. “Can-do” spirit demonstrated amid the pandemic The Club now has over 50 commingling partners and a fan base that spans 27 countries and jurisdictions. Commingling was up 25.3% to a record HK$23.58 billion. Chen notes that racing adds to Hong Kong’s international reputation for world-class excellence and resilience. “We have shown agility and resilience in the face of the pandemic. In fact, by world standards, Hong Kong horses and races have achieved extraordinary results despite our small horse population. For this, we have to thank the Government, the Mainland authorities, horse owners, trainers and jockeys, and the Club’s management staff for all their support and great efforts,” Chen said. Apart from providing them with face masks, the Club has implemented flexible practices as appropriate to keep its employees safe. These include remote work arrangements, split team operations, transport cost reimbursement and staff shuttle bus services on racedays. It maintains a close dialogue with its employees to provide updates and address their concerns. Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges praised the resilience of the Hong Kong community. He thanked racing fans, owners, Club members, horsemen, the media, and Club staff in particular, for their patience, dedication and efforts in ensuring the 2019/20 racing season was able to continue in safety. He said: “This city shows time and time again that it has a remarkable ‘can-do spirit’ and that has been apparent in the community as a whole, and also within racing. It has been difficult, and it may continue to be so for some time yet, but by continuing racing we have shown Hong Kong’s ability to face great challenges and overcome them.” Together we fight the virus With its deep commitment to the betterment of society, the Club responded promptly to the needs of the community amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Club has allocated some HK$346 million to support a series of anti-epidemic measures. Its dedicated Emergency Fund provided fast-track grants to over 210 NGOs, who are providing vital support to hard-hit segments of the community. The Club has directly donated or funded the purchase of over 14 million face masks. It also funded mobile internet data bandwidth for 100,000 underprivileged school students to facilitate their online learning during the school closure period. Anti-epidemic care packs were also delivered via NGOs to the vulnerable groups. In aggregate, these measures had helped over one million members of our community.