Racing in Hong Kong was brought to a standstill on Wednesday because of one person – controversial pro-establishment lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu. The Jockey Club could have easily avoided this mess if it stripped the polarising political figure of his membership, while stopping the horse he part-owns – Hong Kong Bet – from running at all. If it did that then the races would continue unaffected (as they had for the first four meetings of the season), there would be no protesters on course and thousands of people’s livelihoods wouldn’t be impacted. That is the prevailing view after the shock last-minute cancellation of Wednesday night’s meeting at Happy Valley – and there is a lot of truth to it. But the reality is not that simple – the Jockey Club was caught between a rock and a hard place. Jockey Club cancels Happy Valley race meeting over threat of anti-government protesters It could have bowed to the overwhelming majority and halted Ho’s horse from competing, but that means picking a side when it is doing its level best to stay neutral. The Jockey Club tried to have a conversation with Ho about withdrawing Hong Kong Bet for the greater good, but was told in no uncertain terms that the horse was running. If the Jockey Club bans Ho, he comes out on the offensive (he is no shrinking violet), incites his supporters and calls the club “anti-China” – which is not ideal when it opened a HK$3.8 billion training facility in the mainland just 13 months ago and has hundreds of horses and staff there. Years have been spent building the Jockey Club’s relationship with China and it is the highest taxpayer in Hong Kong so any perception it is “anti-government” is not an option. The Jockey Club hoped it could get through the race with only a minor inconvenience (as it had up to this point), moving it to the opening event on the card, but its security department clearly had intelligence that suggested it was going to be far worse than first thought. There were reports Ho planned on going to the races with Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung and that would have only added petrol to an already combustible situation. Picture this: hundreds of pro-democracy protesters clashing with police and/or security on track while 12 1,000-pound horses (plus jockeys) parade nearby with racing fans and staff getting caught up in the ruckus. What if tear-gas was fired into the crowd? Imagine the panic and what would happen if horses were caught up in it? It would be utter mayhem with dire consequences. That is the worst-case scenario, but it also isn’t that far-fetched. The safety of all involved has to come first so the Jockey Club made the right decision. The timing was poor, but it wasn’t prepared to put people in danger or damage its reputation. Controversial figure Junius Ho drags Jockey Club into political mess The problem now is that a precedent has been created. Racing is at the mercy of this volatile political and social climate. If protesters want to hurt the government’s hip pocket – it collects anywhere from HK$110-$150 million in betting duty per meeting – they just have to force more cancellations and the blueprint to do that is there. If Ho wants to continue to inflame the situation, he can insist Hong Kong Bet is entered (and place trainer Tony Cruz in more no-win positions). After the season opener at Sha Tin went off without a hitch, there was a sigh of relief from Jockey Club staff from the very top to the very bottom. Their attention moved to the Chinese National Day meeting on October 1, thinking that could be the next major flashpoint. Given Wednesday’s events and the likely sentiment of that occasion, there would have to be a lot of doubt about it going ahead. Amid all the recent turmoil in Hong Kong, Wednesday stood out as another terribly sad day which tears at the fabric of the city. Ho held the Jockey Club and racing fans hostage and nobody won.