Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges is confident a bumper Longines Hong Kong International Races (HKIR) will help drive the city’s Covid-19 recovery on the back of the recent financial summit and Hong Kong Sevens.

The biggest crowd Hong Kong racing has seen in over three years descended on Sha Tin on Sunday, with 45,305 trackside for “one of the best events we have ever had”.

“I don’t want to say Hong Kong is back, we were never gone, but we are now on the world stage and showing that we are global leaders and can do things very few others can do,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

“We had a lot of meetings with the leading organisations around the world [this week] – leaders from around the world came, similar to the financial summit, and we could provide a wonderful show on turf.

Jockey Club officials Andrew Harding (left) and Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges farewell star jockey Joao Moreira.

“But where the financial summit is for very key stakeholders – a very targeted audience – you can see this event goes around the world to 80 countries. How many people look at this and see Hong Kong is not in lockdown?”

The crowd was electric as local superstars Wellington, California Spangle and Romantic Warrior landed feature wins – the most for Hong Kong since the home side swept the 2018 HKIR.

“The crowd was really back and they really enjoyed being here. People have been concerned about the quality of horses in Hong Kong, but now you can see the golden generation. California Spangle and Romantic Warrior are world class, they are absolute superstars and they will go further,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said about the gallopers who finished one-two in last season’s Hong Kong Derby.

“Wellington showed that he is definitely one of the best sprinters in the world. I would also like to acknowledge Golden Sixty, who even in defeat showed he is a champion.”

Ryan Moore acknowledges the crowd after winning the Hong Kong Sprint aboard Wellington.

Long touted as a key part of Hong Kong’s reopening to the world, the first HKIR since the end of mandatory quarantine for arrivals saw an influx of star overseas jockeys and trainers, as well as the return of international connections and media.

The week wasn’t without its hurdles, of course, with a trio of jockeys sidelined by Covid ahead of Wednesday night’s International Jockeys’ Championship, but they were a distant memory as punters turned over more than HK$1.7 billion on Sunday’s meeting – a HKIR record.

“It’s an event which costs you HK$150 or HK$160 million but it is branding. If you look at the turnover of HK$1.7 billion in an economically tense situation, it shows that Hong Kong racing is the best racing wagering product in the world,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

While the feature-race ledger favoured the locals, Japan went home with silverware for the fourth consecutive year – and the 20th time in HKIR history – thanks to the victory of Win Marilyn in the Hong Kong Vase.

And although reigning Hong Kong champion jockey Zac Purton took the riding honours with a treble, saluting twice on the undercard to go with his Hong Kong Mile win with California Spangle, a trio of internationals also tasted feature success.

It was star Englishman Ryan Moore in the saddle for Wellington’s Hong Kong Sprint win, Australian gun for hire James McDonald who partnered Romantic Warrior to Hong Kong Cup glory and another Australian on a hit-and-run mission, Damian Lane, who got the chocolates aboard Win Marilyn.