Turnover was down at Sha Tin on Saturday but the civil unrest that has plagued Hong Kong racing in recent days was not to blame, according to Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges.
Engelbrecht-Bresges instead pointed the finger at the strength of the product on offer to punters after there was a HK$36 million drop in turnover on a day when officials were pleased to see normal service resume at Sha Tin.
“It was a little bit down but if you look at today’s card, I think it has nothing to do with circumstances outside,” he said. “I think the card was not as strong as meetings before.”
There were no signs of disruption at Sha Tin on Saturday after Wednesday night’s Happy Valley meeting was lost because of safety fears, however under 15,000 people ventured to the track.
“I think we were pretty confident [the day would go as planned], because from our risk-assessment that we do on a regular basis, we couldn’t see any risk in the last day,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
“We expect that attendance will be down as long as we have this situation, because a lot of people are cautious to take public transport.
“But if you look at the overall results and you compare it with the rest of Hong Kong, we are extremely resilient and we are very satisfied with the result given the current circumstances.”
Despite the carnage of this week, the Jockey Club is confident racing will return to Happy Valley without a hitch on Wednesday.
“At the moment we have not seen any significant risk. But it’s not only what happens on course – one has to be mindful of what happens surrounding the racetrack – but at this stage we have no indication that there is anything planned which would change the risk-assessment,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said, adding that he expects attendance to again be down.
“There is always a risk that people get a little bit cautious, but that’s natural. People are going to be more reserved in going out and we have to live with this.”
The National Day meeting at Sha Tin on October 1 remains a potential target for protesters and the situation is being closely monitored.
“We have started planning but it’s a very fluid situation, so one has to do it on a day-to-day basis, sometimes an hour-by-hour basis,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said. “As I mentioned before, we are cautiously optimistic that racing continues.”
Rivals become teammates for a good cause
They’re the fiercest of rivals on the racetrack but Joao Moreira has predicted plenty of laughs when Hong Kong’s best jockeys turn their attention to the soccer field at Mong Kok Stadium on Sunday.
As part of the undercard for the Hong Kong Jockey Club Community Cup, Joao and Friends tackle Peter and Friends in a charity match, with six jockeys and a host of former local soccer stars on each team.
“Whoever turns up to see it is going to like it because people will be having a good laugh and there should be some goals,” Moreira said. “It’s going to be good fun but what is behind it is the most important thing, which is the charity side.
“We’re doing it for charity, the Society for the Relief of Disabled Children does an amazing job for children that need help.”
Moreira teams up with arch-rival Zac Purton, as well as Grant van Niekerk, Matthew Poon Ming-fai, Umberto Rispoli and Alfred Chan Ka-hei, while Lyle Hewitson, Derek Leung Ka-chun, Chad Schofield, Dylan Mo Hin-tung, Neil Callan and Aldo Domeyer line up for Peter and Friends.
That side will be captained by renowned football commentator Peter Wong Hing-kwei and Moreira said the jockeys were looking forward to lining up alongside the ex-pros.
“We haven’t got the skill that they’ve got and to make us not look so bad we add them in,” the Brazilian laughed.
The main event sees Tai Po take on Kitchee, with charitable organisations United Christian Hospital and Street Soccer Hong Kong to benefit from the event.
Lethal pair keep kicking goals
Jockey Vincent Ho Chak-yiu and trainer Francis Lui Kin-wai continued on their merry way as a duo on Saturday, taking out the Class Three Nam Sang Wai Handicap (1,000m) with $10 chance Massive Pocket.
It was the pair’s fourth winner for the season from 10 attempts, with their 40 per cent strike rate as a combination following on from their 20 winners at 12 per cent in 2018-19.
While Ho rode 20 of Lui’s 31 winners last season on his way to 56 for the term, it is the jockey benefiting most from the relationship so far in 2019-20, with all four of his winners coming for Lui.
“It is easy [with Ho], we hardly have to talk that much before a race because he knows what I want and I know what he can do, so it makes it very good,” Lui said.
“We have a great relationship, we do a lot of work together so a lot of our winners come together.”
Lui now has seven winners for the season after also saluting with More Than This in the Class Three Tai Ting Handicap (1,600m).
Size’s giant galloper Conte retired
John Size’s giant galloper Conte has been retired after suffering a scapula bone stress injury.
The gelding started his career in a blaze of glory, winning his first five starts and seven of his first nine, culminating with the Group Three Chinese Challenge Cup (1,400m) on New Year’s Day.
Conte then went on to place in consecutive Group Ones – the Stewards’ Cup and Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup – behind Hong Kong superstar Beauty Generation.
He hadn’t raced since finishing seventh in the Champions Mile in April and was in the process of building up to his return when he suffered the injury.
Conte finished with a rating of 122 after notching seven wins and four placings from 13 starts for HK$11.65 million in prize money.