It was business as usual for the Jockey Club with the Sha Tin meeting virtually unaffected despite all the turmoil in Hong Kong.
There were no major political statements from any fans on course, turnover actually went up on last year’s corresponding meeting while the attendance was only slightly down.
While there was mayhem in Tung Chung and trains were shut down, it appears people saw the races as an escape from all the civil unrest.
“We are extremely pleased with the race meeting, we know that we are in challenging times at the moment in Hong Kong but I found it very encouraging to see the positive energy. The atmosphere was extremely good,” Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
“If you look at attendance it was extremely positive to see 68,000, which significantly exceeded my expectation,” he said.
“The turnover was up by HK$33 million – to HK$1.28 billion which I have to admit also exceeded my expectations.
“I want to thank all racegoers and racing fans for their support and the resilience they have shown. We are very satisfied that we could get the first race meeting off the ground with a positive start in these challenging times.
“Personally, I was expecting a 10 to 15 per cent downturn in turnover when you talk to a lot of people in business who are down by 20, 30, 40 per cent. I was really surprised the attendance held up to this level.
“I hope that shows that Hong Kong racing is strong and alive and we hope to continue with this positive momentum in challenging times.”
Meanwhile, Betfair Australia’s foray into Hong Kong racing got underway on Sunday with modest holds early that built throughout the 10-race card.
The opening event saw A$28,724 (HK$151,751) matched, with the second race the smallest at A$21,365 (HK$112,873) but there was a pretty consistent increase that topped out with A$65,774 (HK$347,490) matched on the last.
In all, there was just over A$420,000 (HK$2,218,900) matched on the meeting.
Bayliss snares special winner for Whyte
Regan Bayliss may only have had two rides at Sha Tin on Sunday but he still lived out a dream, booting home Adonis to hand one of his idols – Douglas Whyte – his first winner as a trainer.
Whyte was on the board with only his second ever runner and it was a moment Bayliss will not forget in a hurry.
“It’s very special to ride Douglas’ first winner,” he said. “I’ve been looking up to him since I was a little kid, always watching how much he dominated over here.
“I’ve come here and he’s given me plenty of trackwork and I’ve been working hard in Douglas’ stables for the last two weeks and it’s really good to get on a nice chance today, execute the plan accordingly and come away with a win.”
The win provided a welcome shot of confidence for Bayliss, who could only secure two rides in his first day back in the saddle since breaking his hand in early June.
“Last season a few things didn’t go my way, obviously I broke my hand which made me miss the last two months of the season,” Bayliss said.
“I feel really good this season, I’ve learned a lot from last season. My hand feels good, the body feels good, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it.”
Bayliss is only contracted until the end of the year and, after only four winners last season, the Australian will be looking to build some momentum early to ensure he remains at Sha Tin next year and beyond.
Bayliss’ other ride – on the Caspar Fownes-trained Nice Fandango – finished a long last.
Chest is yet to come: Gibson
There was a hint of relief in Richard Gibson’s voice after his highly touted galloper Gold Chest got the monkey off his back at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The British import was bought as a Hong Kong Derby prospect but failed to deliver in his first season in Hong Kong, running 13th in the four-year-old showcase and only placing once from his seven starts.
“There is no hiding my disappointment of his first season in Hong Kong,” said a buoyant Gibson. “He struggled with a few health issues, we were patient with him.
“We trained him very well and eased him into his prep and I thought he won with a bit of class today. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet.”
Gold Chest looked a more complete horse than the one we saw last season and Gibson is confident the gelding is now comfortable at Sha Tin.
“It’s pretty common with the European horses that they need the second prep and he’s a pretty good example of it. It would be nice to see him improve some more,” he said.
Master a ticking time bomb
Ka Ying Master extended his undefeated run to two at Sha Tin on Sunday – beating some promising types in the process – but trainer Benno Yung Tin-pang isn’t getting too excited.
The four-year-old responded to the urgings of Keith Yeung Ming-lun to beat short-priced favourite Dancing Fighter in the Class Four Yi Tung Shan Handicap (1,000m), but Yung is concerned he’s a bit of a ticking time bomb.
“He’s got a bit of an issue – a wind problem – so I wasn’t sure how he’d go,” he said.
“To be honest, he doesn’t have a lot of ability, but he tries hard. At some point the wind issue is going to stop him so we’ve got to make the most of it while we can. It was a good ride by Keith.”
Some fans were disappointed to see the Caspar Fownes-trained Dancing Fighting go under – not only because he jumped at $2.2 – but because his pop star owner Aaron Kwok Fu-shing was on course receiving plenty of attention.
Ho’s Golden run continues with double
Vincent Ho Chak-yiu enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2018-19 and he picked up where he left off, securing a double at the season opener.
The leading local jockey collected a double for Francis Lui Kin-wai, firstly with talented Golden Sixty before claiming the last with Cordyceps.
Golden Sixty has now won four of his five races and bounced back from his last start flop to run over the top of the heavily supported Mr Croissant in the Class Three Sunset Peak Handicap (1,200m).
“He’s definitely got some ratings points in hand. He did it easily. He’s not at his top yet – he can improve a lot,” Ho said.
“I think 1,400m should suit him. It probably came up a little too early for him at the end of last season. I still think he can get there.
“It was nice to get a double for Francis Lui – he supports me a lot.”
Cordyceps ensured Ho is full of confidence when he heads to South Korea next weekend to partner Ugly Warrior and Glorious Artist.