With the sound of a gong, rung by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the new racing season was under way – and the rookies wasted no time making an impact.
After all the pomp, ceremony and lion dancing of the official opening at Sha Tin, it was time for action and a fairy tale start for Jimmy Ting Koon-ho and Grant van Niekerk.
The two joined forces to take out the opening race of the season with honest veteran Triumphant Jewel with no one able to remember the last time a new trainer and new jockey combined for their first win in Hong Kong. Other than the very first meeting here, it is entirely plausible it has never happened since.
They managed to win one more race each, ensuring both of them went home with giant smiles on their faces, encouraged by their prospects for the season ahead.
While there was something for the newcomers, the established performers of Zac Purton and Tony Cruz stepped up again to collect the feature, the HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup, with Winner’s Way.
With arch-rival Joao Moreira moving to Japan, the top jockey is expected to dominate this season and he got off to a solid start with two winners, three seconds and a third.
It was mixed start for punters, despite there being a few short-priced winners, plenty of money went unclaimed with the Triple Trio and Six Up Bonus both to jackpot for next weekend’s meeting.
The other talking point has been the addition of the new Conghua Racecourse to the scene and how much of an impact it will have.
Of the 11 runners who had spent time in the HK$3.7 billion facility, there were two seconds and two thirds – positive signs.
From a crowd perspective, the turnout of 74,722 (including cross betting at Happy Valley) was strong given the amber rainstorm warning in the morning, even if the rain had well and truly disappeared before the first race.
The turnover of HK$1.253 billion was HK$41 million down on last year, but Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges was content with that, given the circumstances.
“I have to say we are very pleased with the race meeting,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
“We had the second highest attendance in 20 years and it was significantly better than last year, so I think that is very positive.
“In relation to turnover it is the second highest on record, it was a little bit down on last year, but we also had 10 per cent less runners. The decline in the turnover is due to less starters.
“We haven’t increased the number of horses we have in training with the increase to 88 race meetings.
“We have increased the number of permits so we will have more horses in training next year, so for us it is a temporary issue. With more horses, I am confident we will start stronger next season.”
Engelbrecht-Bresges took a positive from the fact the races with bigger fields attracted betting higher than those races with similar fields the year before and remains bullish about the overall picture.
“We are pretty optimistic that we can hit our target of a 3 to 4 per cent increase in turnover [for the season],” he said.