Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges is confident Sunday’s Sha Tin meeting – as well as the Hong Kong International Races – will go ahead as planned, but is bracing for a drastically reduced attendance with transport in the city crippled by the ongoing chaos.
The club opted to cancel Wednesday night’s Happy Valley card because of safety concerns as the turmoil which has engulfed Hong Kong recently escalated again, the second time it has abandoned a meeting in the past two months.
With just over three weeks until HKIR – the biggest meeting of the year – it raises concerns over the status of the showcase event and the internationals who have committed to making the trip, headlined by Japanese champion Almond Eye.
Engelbrecht-Bresges expects there to be more clarity about the situation early next week because the Jockey Club will have a “better picture from a risk assessment” point of view after Sunday’s meeting.
“We still have a plan to continue on with HKIR, we will brief all the international connections about the risk assessment we have,” he told the Post.
“There may be a chance that some people decide not to come, which I think we have to respect. But we are cautiously optimistic we will have a good line-up.”
Engelbrecht-Bresges confirmed the Jockey Club is pushing ahead with Sunday’s crucial meeting – the final lead-up for local horses heading to HKIR (including superstars Beauty Generation and Exultant) – and is putting plans in place to make sure it’s as safe as possible for its staff, customers and horses.
The ongoing conflict at the nearby Chinese University of Hong Kong remains a concern as it has wreaked havoc with transport in the area – the Tolo Highway is blocked in parts and most of the East Rail Line is out of action.
Given the challenges, there is likely to be “a significantly limited attendance”.
“There are still certain risks and we have to be mindful about how we manage them,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
“You have to accept that only a limited number of public [patrons] will be there and maybe some owners.
“We have a significant contingency plan for our staff, which at a day meeting is much easier to manage than a night meeting.
“This is a key meeting for a lot of our potential Hong Kong International Races runners. Even in this situation we have to have the intention to run.”
Given the risk factor escalates for night meetings, compared to those held during the day, it means the card most vulnerable is the International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley on December 4.
Engelbrecht-Bresges admitted it is something they will continue to look at with “two or three scenarios” being drawn up behind the scenes.
“It’s a very fluid situation and we have to think about contingency plans for this too,” he said.
“We have to explore those with the government because if we decide to change venues, there is a consultation process that will take over a week because multiple departments need to be involved.”
The chief executive reiterated that Wednesday’s meeting was cancelled because of the challenges in getting staff home safely late at night, not in transporting the horses to and from Happy Valley.
“Bringing people home at night is very, very difficult so we have to put people, especially our staff, first,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
“The situation can change from day-to-day and hour-to-hour. It’s something we have to monitor.”