Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges is “optimistic” Sunday’s meeting at Sha Tin will go ahead as planned, but needs the final stamp of approval from the Hong Kong government in the wake of its tough new social-distancing measures.
The government has ramped up its campaign to help combat the recent resurgence of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, banning groups of more than four people as of Sunday for 14 days, while leisure venues for public gatherings are also being closed.
But there is no limit on how many people can congregate at a workplace and the Jockey Club is doing what it can to ensure it fits in that category.
As it stands, only stable staff, licensed persons and racing media are allowed to attend Sunday’s card.
Coronavirus: Jockey Club locks out owners to comply with tough new measures to combat resurgence of infections
“We are in a good discussion with the government to get the final clarifications to ensure that we fully comply with the ordinance, this is a process we have to go through, but we are optimistic that we can have the race meeting [on Sunday],” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
“We just need further clarification of a lot of details to 100 per cent ensure that we are fully compliant and supportive of the government’s decision.”
The Jockey Club first brought in a partial lockout for the Lunar New Year meeting on January 27, eventually tightening it up to the point where only staff, key personnel and owners with starters were able to attend.
That was the arrangement originally in place for Sunday’s card, but now owners with starters won’t be allowed in.
Some have “expressed their disappointment” but understand the situation in Hong Kong is bigger than them and will instead watch on television.
“I hope for their understanding that for this limited period of time we can accept this restriction so we can continue racing and we can make contributions to the community,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said. “If we have to accept that owners, for a limited period of time, cannot come, it is not ideal, but for the sake of the fight against the virus and the overall message to people to take social distancing seriously, we will have to accept it.”
The main sticking point is the mounting yard – where owners gather to talk to the trainer and jockey of their horse and go through the pre-race instructions.
The facilities at the tracks are big enough to comfortably satisfy the social-distancing requirements in the stands and restaurants, but having 14 sets of owners, trainers and jockeys in the mounting yard pre-race all at once is not a good look.
The Jockey Club has a plan to reduce the number of people in there and separate the connections, but it would need government approval for it to get the green light and that won’t happen in time for Sunday’s meeting.
The chief executive said those particularly aggrieved owners could make an application to withdraw their horse from a race, but was hopeful that wouldn’t be the case.
“Under these circumstances, if someone wants to withdraw their horse, then we have to accept it,” he said. “Because in fairness, when they entered the horse, they did not know [they wouldn’t be allowed to go].
“But so far, all the owners we have talked to have accepted this, even if they are not happy about it. Their feeling is if this is what it takes to continue racing, they will accept it.”