Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor toured the Jockey Club’s Sha Tin facilities during the week to learn about the preventive measures put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges was on hand on Thursday to show Lam the testing procedures which have been used over the past 12 months to ensure racing has continued in Hong Kong.

Tens of thousands of tests have been done by the Jockey Club on jockeys, trainers and staff since the beginning of the pandemic in an attempt to create a racing bubble, which Engelbrecht-Bresges said Lam was keen to learn about.

“She wanted to understand how we manage it all in a crisis so we gave her a rundown on our risk assessment, how our activities are managed and then showed her what we do on a race day. She was impressed,” he said.

Horses race in front of an empty Sha Tin grandstand. Photo: Kenneth Chan

With the Jockey Club kicking HK$184 million into government coffers in betting duty during Sunday’s meeting alone, it is little wonder Lam was interested to see how the show continued in the face of Covid-19.

Jockey Club officials are hoping Lam’s visit will help their cause as they prepare to bring more people back to the races next week if the government relaxes restrictions as expected.

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“I am confident that if the number of cases continues to come down that from Thursday we can operate a little bit differently,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said. “We are looking to have more owners and more members here and then we have to see when we can introduce the public.”

With the Hong Kong Derby five weeks away, Engelbrecht-Bresges revealed he was hoping to unveil plans that could see “5-8,000 people” there for the city’s most prestigious event.

Horses parade at Sha Tin on Sunday. Photo: Kenneth Chan

There were once hopes December’s Hong Kong International Races could be run under the same scenario but the rise of the fourth wave of Covid-19 put paid to that.

“If the numbers keep coming down, maybe the scenario we once had for the international races could be feasible again, that is about 5-8,000 people,” he said. “I think that is the only thing we missed today, the public.”

With most of Hong Kong’s betting public now set up with online accounts, Sunday’s Lunar New Year meeting was a bumper one with a record HK$1.84 billion punted.

Soumillon wonders what could have been

Christophe Soumillon signed off his short-term stint with a double, saluting aboard the Danny Shum Chap-shing-trained pair of Dandy Years and Decisive Action before heading to the airport wondering what could have been.

After testing positive for Covid-19 at the Breeders’ Cup in November and missing two Group One-winning rides, a testing irregularity saw Soumillon missing the winning ride aboard Normcore in the Group One Hong Kong Cup on international day.

A pair of suspensions then hampered the Belgian’s attempt to gain momentum but he still managed 11 winners from 96 rides and hopes to repeat his Hong Kong sojourn next season.

Christophe Soumillon celebrates his win aboard Decisive Action with trainer Danny Shum. Photo: Kenneth Chan

“My stint wasn’t too bad, I don’t see it really like going out on a high but it’s not bad to have two winners,” Soumillon said.

“I was happy to be here, I had 11 winners and it was a good score. I hoped I could win some more big races but what happened between the Breeders’ Cup and the Hong Kong Cup, I’m was just happy to show everybody I was still here.”

The double took Shum to 33 winners for the season, firmly entrenched in sixth spot in the trainers’ premiership 10 victories behind leader Caspar Fownes.

Cruz’s bittersweet Chinese New Year Cup victory

Tony Cruz snared his second Chinese New Year Cup on Sunday but the master trainer admits he couldn’t help but be a touch disappointed he didn’t walk away with a stable quinella as he had expected.

The 64-year-old took both Beauty Smile and California Rad into the Class One 1,400m contest, with the former storming home under jockey Matthew Chadwick to grab the prize.

It was California Rad’s disappointing seventh that left him scratching his head after the galloper started a $2.60 favourite.

“We were very confident. I thought it would be a stable quinella,” he said. “I’m very disappointed with the other horse – maybe there was something I missed with him.”

While Beauty Smile is eligible to run in the four-year-old series, Cruz is set to ignore the temptation to run him in the Derby over 2,000m next month and plans to keep him to shorter trips while racing with a rating in the 90s.

“There’s another [Class Two] in March over 1,400m, he’s eligible for that – I think I might go that way,” he said.

It marked the first of two winners on the day for Chadwick, who also saluted aboard Trust Me for Dennis Yip Chor-hong to move his season total to 17.

Cruz was happy to have his former apprentice in the saddle, who took his record to two-from-two on the horse.

“He rode a perfect race, he’s riding with confidence now, especially on this horse,” he said.

Piccone and Chau suspended

Frenchman Tony Piccone and in-form apprentice Jerry Chau Chun-lok are set for stints on the sidelines after pleading guilty to a pair of careless riding charges on Sunday.

Piccone fell foul of the stewards for his ride aboard Seize The Spirit in the Class Five Red Packet Handicap (1,400m) after causing interference at the 75m mark. He will miss the cards on March 7 and 10.

Jerry Chau (right) is nosed out aboard Duke Wai at Sha Tin on Sunday. Photo: Kenneth Chan

Chau was rubbed out for two meetings and fined HK$40,000 for his ride aboard Duke Wai in the Class Two Fat Choi Handicap (1,200m) after causing interference at the 250m mark.

While Chau went on to run second in the race, stewards found Chau shifted in on Roman Turbo which in turn hampered Beauty Rush, Sky Field and Californiadeepshot.

The seven-pound apprentice will miss the meetings on February 24 and 28.