The Hong Kong Jockey Club has announced a record prize-money increase of HK$167 million and a new bonus system for the 2022-23 season as it looks to rejuvenate a flagging and unbalanced horse population and counter rising global bloodstock prices.

The quality of horses imported into Hong Kong has suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic and the Jockey Club hopes a string of incentives will motivate owners – who are allowed back at the races this Sunday after a lengthy closed-door period – to splash out on top-line gallopers.

“The last two-and-a-half years have been among the most challenging times in Hong Kong racing history but hopefully what we announce today shows that we are extremely optimistic and bullish about Hong Kong racing,” Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

“We felt we had to take stock of where we are. We are still one of the most international racing products globally but when we look at what we have to do to ensure the future of Hong Kong racing, we felt we had to analyse the current trends and we saw some trends which are of concern.

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“First of all, a lot of our owners and trainers were not able to go overseas to sales and source horses and we feel that has had an impact on the quality of horses imported into Hong Kong in the last couple of years.

“We are facing an increased competition to source good horses due to prize-money increases around the world – especially Australia, which is the main source of our bloodstock.”

There will be a significant increase in prize money for the Longines Hong Kong International Races, with the Cup and Mile raised HK$4 million to HK$34 million and HK$30 million, respectively, while all Group Two and Three races have been bumped as part of a “holistic incentive structure”.

While the Jockey Club expects growth to take time, officials are hopeful the measures will generate enough immediate interest to give this year’s crop of incoming horses a boost.

Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges.

“We hope this announcement today has a positive impact on the ballot, which has started, but also internationally we want people to know we are in business, we believe in international racing and we believe in the positioning of our Longines Hong Kong International Races as the turf world championships,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

Officials have identified a need to encourage owners to import more private purchases (previously raced gallopers) to address an imbalance that saw PPs make up only 37 per cent of the horse population at the end of last season, compared to private purchase griffins (previously unraced gallopers who start their careers in Class Four rated 52) at 63 per cent.

Those figures have shifted from 51 per cent PPs and 49 per cent PPGs at the end of the 2015-16 season, with the club issuing more PPG permits as it increased the horse population to cater for more race meetings and the opening of Conghua Racecourse.

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The club is targeting a return to 45 per cent PPs by the end of the 2024-25 season as it bids to arrest a slide in horses rated 80-plus and the number of Hong Kong horses rated 115-plus in the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, as well as decreasing field sizes in the higher classes and over longer distances.

“We see a dominance of PPGs and this is of concern because if you look at the top quality horses, most of them come from PPs,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

“The consequence of this is that we had a reduction of field sizes, especially in Class Three and above, and if you look at field sizes of races 1,600m and above, we felt that we have an even more significant problem.

The Hong Kong International Races are in line for a significant prize-money boost.

“Our strategy is that Hong Kong is definitely focusing on sprinters and milers but the shift to sprinting has become more profound in recent years and this is of concern, because we want to have a balance.”

The Jockey Club lowered the minimum rating for PPs, who are more expensive by nature of having already performed at the races, from 68 to 63 at the start of this season to make them more competitive earlier – and therefore a better value proposition for owners.

It will now increase prize money across all classes with a focus on Class One, Two and Three races from 1,600m to 2,400m, which will receive a boost of more than 20 per cent.

A new HK$1 million bonus will also be given to PPs when they win their first race in Class Three, as well as a HK$1 million top-up when the horse first wins in Class Two, while PPGs will continue to earn a HK$1 million bonus for a first win in Class Two.

Jockey Club executive director of racing Andrew Harding.

“We know just how important PPs are to the overall quality of the racehorse population,” executive director of racing Andrew Harding said.

“This is a new direction that the club’s striking out on in terms of providing an additional prize-money boost for races over these distances of 1,600m to 2,400m [based on] the composition of our horse population and the need for us to make some changes to encourage horse owners.”

There have also been some tweaks aimed at achieving a more even spread of the markets horses are sourced from, with northern hemisphere imports now eligible for the Class Two PP and PPG bonuses until the end of the season of their five-year-old year, while southern hemisphere horses are only eligible until the end of their four-year-old year.

“We want to see a better balance in sourcing, therefore we want to entice owners to look at other markets besides Australia, which will always be a key market, but there is New Zealand and there is definitely Europe when it comes to horses running at 1,600m or above,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.