The Jockey Club’s HK$3.7 billion facility in Conghua – and its expertise in betting – could become key planks in China’s bold new plan to establish a standardised national horse racing industry.

The Chinese government recently published a five-year blueprint titled the “National Equine Industry Development Plan (2020-2025)”, which is expected to significantly boost the country’s equestrian and horse racing operations.

The key measures in place to promote horse racing include:

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formulating a plan for the establishment of nationwide standards and development of horse racing sports.

designing a class rating system on par with international standards;

enhancing racing integrity with stricter doping control, higher qualifications for racing professionals;

developing a system for horse welfare on par with international standards;

facilitating the implementation of a pilot system for horse racing on the basis of the existing sports lottery system in China.

The fun zone at Conghua racecourse. Photo: Kenneth Chan

There are also a range of specific initiatives and targets for different regions, which cover breeding practices, horse population, veterinary and health standards, disease control, horse training, competitions and events, the development of fitness and leisure facilities and cultural tourism.

The fact China has reaffirmed the value of having a thriving equine industry and is committed to restructuring and upgrading it can only be a good thing, according to Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges.

And the world-class facility at Conghua, which opened in 2018, would be an obvious place to start.

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“They have outlined four regions when it comes to horse racing and with our development in Guangdong, it’s natural that we would be a key partner,” Engelbrecht-Bresges told the Post. “It will only help the development of the sport.

“At the moment we are a cooperation partner of the China Sports Lottery so from this, it seems we are in a good position [to be involved].

“But one should not expect there will be horse racing with betting [in China] in the next two or three years. It is a general direction and everyone has to work to the plan.”

There has been no legal betting on racing in China since 1949, but the Jockey Club hosted one showcase meeting at Conghua in March 2019 and there have been other exhibition cards at different times.

Officials toast the first exhibition meeting at Conghua racecourse. Photo: Kenneth Chan

The only legal form of gambling on sports in the country comes from the China Sports Lottery, with the focus on football. Players have to predict the outcome of 14 specified fixtures for the chance to share in prizes. There are also games where players have to predict half-time/full-time results in six contests and the correct scores across four matches.

When it comes to horse racing, instead of standard win, place and quinella bets which are available in Hong Kong and around the world, potentially the lottery-style games in China will be more like the six-up and triple trio exotics.

While optimistic about the future of the sport in China, Engelbrecht-Bresges doesn’t want to get ahead of himself and believes there needs to be a collaborative approach.

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“It’s not only about us, it’s about the whole development of the industry – both equestrian and horse racing,” he said.

“We will go through the International Horse Sports Confederation and the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities because I feel it’s important the equestrian industry and the horse racing industry does this together. We will approach them and see if they want our advice on this.

“Hopefully we can make a contribution from our equine sports to help them and guide them in this exciting development. It is very positive and encouraging to see.”