Despite being hit hard by the social unrest in Hong Kong through the first part of the season and the Covid-19 pandemic compounding the situation during the second half, the Jockey Club still managed to record HK$121.6 billion in betting turnover – the third highest ever – for the 2019-20 racing campaign.
The figure, achieved across 87 local meetings and the simulcast of 164 overseas races, was only 2.6 per cent down on the record 2018-19 figure – astonishing given broader circumstances.
Wednesday night’s season finale at Happy Valley alone produced HK$1.6 billion – a record for any fixture at the iconic city circuit.
With Covid-19 forcing the off-course betting branches to shut for almost half of the season, local turnover declined by 8.3 per cent, but it was bolstered by a boost in commingling from overseas, which was up 25.3 per cent to a record HK$23.5 billion.
Overall HK$12.113 billion went to the Hong Kong government while there has also been “a significant contribution” to charities, including emergency Covid-19 funding.
Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges acknowledges it has been a season like no other but believes the ability to push on through the adversity highlights the resiliency of the community.
“It has been difficult, and it may continue to be so for some time yet, but by continuing racing we have shown Hong Kong’s ability to face great challenges and overcome them,” he said.
“We are pleased to have been able to complete a full season but of course our prime focus throughout, and a real challenge, was to act responsibly to protect the public health and safety of our staff, customers and the wider community at every turn, while at the same time balancing that with the desire for our sport to continue.
“While we recognise that the coronavirus situation is an ongoing battle, and we must remain vigilant, I can say that it has been heartening to see the Hong Kong community pull together and play a crucial part in combating its effects.
“We are incredibly proud that the club could continue to make such a [big contribution to Hong Kong], the benefits of completing a full season will be felt by millions of people across [the city] over the coming months.”
From late January, when the Jockey Club was forced to lock out fans and institute severe social distancing measures to combat the coronavirus crisis, it created a “racing bubble” to try to protect trainers, jockeys and key staff and ensure racing could continue.
“At all times we knew that one positive test from within that bubble could have meant racing would go the way of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens and so many other major sports and public events,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said. “But the bubble we created – which set a template for racing all around the world – has remained intact.
“I am thankful to our employees for their dedication and hard work, and to our licensed persons who were key to keeping racing going.
“Through their efforts, we were able to provide valuable stay-at-home entertainment for hundreds of thousands of racing fans at a time when social distancing was of paramount importance.”
The first meeting of the 2020-21 season is scheduled for Saturday, September 5 at Sha Tin.