As chaos reigned around Hong Kong, the National Day race meeting at Sha Tin went ahead virtually unaffected with Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges paying tribute to his staff while getting emotional about the “sad” state of affairs in the city.
There was only one very minor incident on course, when a small group of pro-democracy protesters chanted after the Chinese national anthem was played at the start of the meeting, but it quickly dissipated.
The Jockey Club put in place additional security measures to help protect the safety of staff, customers and the horses and it seemed to work with the meeting being conducted as normal.
The crowd was well down on the previous year with just 18,706 attending compared to 33,502, but betting only dropped HK$33 million to HK$1.461 billion (US$186 million), despite 30 off-course betting branches being closed because of safety concerns.
Engelbrecht-Bresges admitted everything went smoother than he could have hoped after “multiple meetings” looking at the potential risks.
“If you look at the overall circumstances, it was much [better than] what we expected,” he said. “It was one expression of a view, it was done in a way that was not threatening and I think our hardcore racing fans dealt with it in a very civilised manner.
“All the intelligence we had showed that there was not a significant risk of violence or intention to create violence so we felt comfortable to go ahead with the race meeting.
“The additional security measures we had ensured that people coming didn’t have issues. I think people see the racecourse as a place for everyone, from completely different parts of society, and we are glad that we could maintain that position.
“Our attendance is definitely down, but if you look at the difficulties of getting to the track and the risk of public transport, I think that is secondary.”
The chief executive was effusive in his praise for the Jockey Club workforce, who allowed the meeting to go ahead.
“I’m extremely grateful to all our staff who have worked tirelessly to enable us to stage the meeting under such difficult circumstances. I think it has shown the can-do spirit of the club and the dedication of our staff,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
“We have 12,000 people behind the scenes who work on this. It’s sometimes difficult for them to get to work and get home … but we had around 98 per cent turn up for work. I don’t know any other place in the world where under these difficult circumstances they would show the same dedication.”
At the end of his press conference, emotions got the better of Engelbrecht-Bresges when talking about his adopted home as reports of violence in Hong Kong filtered through to those on course.
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“Horse racing is really one of the very unique spaces in Hong Kong and very dear to the heart of a lot of Hong Kong people. It unites Hong Kong. We are glad we could stage this race meeting,” he said.
“Hopefully it’s something that creates a little bit of hope in a situation when many people are stressed and there are significant issues in the society.
“Let’s hope that things outside don’t turn more difficult, because I personally think it is really very sad.”