With effective strategies and relentless effort across the organisation, the Hong Kong Jockey Club (the Club) has continued to manage the global COVID-19 pandemic decisively, implementing the world's best health protocols that have protected the welfare of its employees, racing participants and the public, allowing the sport to continue while many other sports – at home and abroad – are deeply affected.
The Club closed out the season's 88th and final meeting – one more than last season – having hosted a record 835 races and simulcast 206 overseas races, and posted turnover of HK$136 billion, representing the first time over HK$130 billion, or a 12.1% increase compared to that of 2019/20 season. The betting duty reached a total of HK$13.7 billion, representing a 13.6% increase from last season.
"We are delighted to have been able to again complete a full season with a clear focus of ensuring racing to continue while upholding the principle of protecting the public health and safety of our employees, stakeholders and the public. The remarkable season turnover has enabled us to contribute more for the betterment of our society.
"The collective discipline of all participants – trainers, jockeys, owners, employees and customers - has been especially heartening in these trying times. In that sense, nothing about this wonderful display of Hong Kong's enterprising spirit and 'can-do' attitude is surprising.
"I am thankful to our employees for their dedication and hard work, and to our licensed persons who demonstrated strong integrity 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," said Mr. Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, Chief Executive Officer.
"I also appreciate the understanding amongst our supporters that as a result of our alignment with the Government's public health policy, restricted number of people were allowed back on-course. With the improving COVID-19 situation, sooner than later, I am looking forward to a return to normality and we can welcome back all of our customers to our great race-tracks."
World class sport
Hong Kong racing once again delivered 10 and a half months of captivating sport, underpinned by brilliant achievements and world class action.
Extraordinary performance was again the hallmark of Hong Kong racing. With the creation of a racing bubble at the two racecourses, the Club has been able to continue staging international racing with the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races (HKIR), FWD Champions Day and another engrossing night at the LONGINES International Jockeys' Championship (IJC).
Golden Sixty continued his outstanding form to remain unbeaten for the second season in a row with a winning streak which contained four Group 1 triumphs. Fittingly, it claimed Hong Kong Horse of the Year honours, while also scooping the Champion Miler and Champion Middle-distance Horse categories as well as being voted the Most Popular Horse for the second consecutive year.
Hot King Prawn (Champion Sprinter), Panfield (Champion Stayer), Sky Darci (Champion Four-Year-Old), Fantastic Treasure (Champion Griffin) and Courier Wonder (Most Improved Horse) were also recognised as Hong Kong racing undergoes generational transition with the retirement of champions Beauty Generation and Exultant, who have been presented with the Lifetime Achievement Awards for their great contributions.
Caspar Fownes claimed his fourth champion trainer title, with 79 wins, after another sterling battle with John Size, the 11-time trainer in a reprise of the pair's 2013/14 tussle – which eventually also fell to Caspar.
It is a measure of the incessant need to improve and excel in Hong Kong that Caspar has easily eclipsed his previous-best season tally in 2008/09 of 68, a figure which would not have been sufficient to triumph this season. John, who remains a towering figure on the Hong Kong training landscape, is only the third trainer to notch more than 1300 winners in the jurisdiction along with John Moore and Tony Cruz.
Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges said: "Caspar and John have captivated racing followers throughout this season. Caspar set the early pace before John took the lead in late May, fanning hopes of a record-breaking 12th title. But Caspar's determination to win the championship shone through with a late-season surge which saw him prepare more winners in a season than ever before. John, as usual, was the epitome of understated excellence, while Frankie Lor, Francis Lui and Danny Shum all had strong seasons to finish in the top five.
Vincent Ho and Jerry Chau's achievements this year further emphasised the quality of horsemen the Hong Kong system is producing as the pair fought out the Tony Cruz Award for the most successful home-grown jockey. Vincent logged five Group 1 successes, four aboard Golden Sixty, and the FWD QEII Cup in April. As supremely effective as Vincent was, he was pushed to the line in the Tony Cruz Award by 21-year-old Chau, whose 58 wins is the most ever record in a season by an apprentice in Hong Kong.
The CEO said: "Vincent's effort on the international stage and Jerry's feat to ride more than 50 winners in his first full season were outstanding. It was fitting that two of the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Apprentice Jockeys' School were so effective against the world's best and their continuing rise bodes well for Hong Kong racing."
After battles royale over the past seven seasons, Zac Purton and Joao Moreira threatened to go head-to-head until the last again this season but it was Moreira who proved to be decisively more effective with 157 wins to the Australian's 125. Purton's haul was envy of all but one jockey in Hong Kong. Moreira, who snared the BMW Hong Kong Derby on Sky Darci, the G1 Centenary Sprint Cup on Hot King Prawn and the G1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup on Waikuku, led from start to finish as he topped 150 winners in Hong Kong for the third time in his career.
"Joao has once again demonstrated elite standards with a professionalism that is incredible," Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges said. "He was supremely focused throughout 2020/21 on the task of becoming champion for the fourth time and, to do so, he had to eclipse a four-time champion in Zac Purton. We look forward to a resumption battle next season."
In December, the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races saw three stars from abroad – Japan's Danon Smash and Normcore and Ireland's Mogul – carry off the Hong Kong Sprint, Hong Kong Cup and Hong Kong Vase, while Hong Kong's Golden Sixty took out the Mile.
Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges said: "We have an unwavering goal to provide world class racing here in Hong Kong and our LONGINES Hong Kong International Races attracted some of the best horses and horsemen in the world, and produced one of the most memorable days in Asian racing history.
"The Club is determined to maintain those world class standards and to do that prize money is a key element. We are committed to rewarding owners to encourage their continued investment in the sport, and we also want to attract the best horses and horsemen from around the world to compete in our races, especially the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races and FWD Champions Day. This is all necessary to keep Hong Kong in the front rank of world racing and provide the best quality for our fans and customers."
Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges also noted the departure of two Hong Kong's legends – Beauty Generation and Exultant, who have been retired after stellar careers.
He said: "Beauty Generation and Exultant have stood as colossal figures on the Hong Kong stage, achieving extraordinary success for their connections and achieving acclaim on the world stage. Beauty Generation was twice Hong Kong Horse of the Year, set three course records during a glittering career and was rated the world's top miler in the LONGINES World's Best Racehorse Rankings. He retired from Hong Kong racing with a record prize money of HK$106,233,750. Exultant was also Hong Kong Horse of the Year and figured repeatedly in the LONGINES standings with five G1 triumphs. He bowed out with HK$83,491,900."
Proven value of Conghua Racecourse
One of the outstanding features of 2020/21 was the river of winners to emerge from Conghua Racecourse. The Club's Conghua facility in Guangdong Province opened in August 2018 and continues to provide tremendous benefit to Hong Kong racing with 29 of champion trainer Caspar Fownes wins coming from horses that went to the races off a stay at Conghua since their previous start, and the season saw 190 such winners in total.
Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges said: "The vision of Conghua is yielding positive results and we are delighted with the success we are seeing. We can build on this good beginning, and Conghua will especially help us as we decant the Sha Tin stables and begin our massive investment to upgrade those facilities.
"The growing success of joint-site stables is testament to the investment in – and future of – Conghua."
This season alone, the winners of the BMW Hong Kong Derby, Group 2 Sprint Cup, Group 2 Chairman's Trophy and Group 3 Lion Rock Trophy were all stabled at Conghua before notching black type success.
In addition to this support for Hong Kong racing, the Club has always believed that Conghua Racecourse, currently the only international standard thoroughbred training centre and racecourse in the Mainland, is well-positioned to contribute to the development of a world-class equine industry in the Greater Bay Area.
The signing of a Framework Cooperation Agreement between the Club and the Guangzhou Municipal Government in May to jointly take forward the promotion and development of the equine industry in the Greater Bay Area was therefore a major step forward.
The agreement, which follows the announcement of the National Equine Industry Development Plan (2020-2025) in September 2020, is important in two respects. Firstly, through the launch of a regular racing programme from 2025, Conghua will bring international-standard racing to the Mainland, showcasing the sport and creating economic value for Conghua district and beyond. By building an iconic Grandstand of around 8,000 spectators and staging of world class racing, Conghua Racecourse will become an international and national renowned must-visit destination.
Secondly, the agreement lays the foundation for an equine industry value chain in the Greater Bay Area. This will be facilitated by the future establishment of an international equine quarantine facility to support the import and export of horses both internationally and locally. The Club will provide training and professional development for equine personnel. Protocols for the cross-boundary movement of horses, fodder and veterinary medicines will be streamlined. The establishment of a thoroughbred trading centre and the further development of equestrian sports in Guangzhou will be explored.
Hong Kong, being part of the Greater Bay Area, will benefit as part of this equine value chain. More immediately, as facilities expand at Conghua and more races become available, there will be more opportunities to participate in racing, including through racehorse ownership. All of these will strengthen Hong Kong racing as it continues to develop its profile internationally.
Turnover and contributions
It is a remarkable achievement that the turnover of this season reaches HK$136 billion. In particular, the trend of local races turnover remains strong at HK$129.3 billion, representing an increase of 11% over the last season, while the simulcast races total also reached HK$7 billion, a 37.7% increase from last year.
Domestically, Hong Kong racing showed immense quality and appeal with our customers continually showing tremendous support for our product, which is built around quality horses and outstanding trainers and jockeys.
The World Pool, which was created by the Club and launched at Royal Ascot in 2019, continues to show excellent growth. The Dubai World Cup meeting set a turnover record of HK$332 million in March before this year's Royal Ascot King's Stand Day surpassed that figure with HK$340 million.
Total turnover on World Pool meetings was up HK$1771.3 million or 108.6 percent, while the commingled component was up HK$313 million or 88.1 percent.
Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges said: "Given the circumstances confronting the Club, our overall season racing turnover of more than HK$136 billion is outstanding. The growth in turnover is testament to the quality of our product and the support of our customers.
"To achieve these types of figures underpins the importance of horse racing to Hong Kong and its people. We are also delighted with how popular our simulcasts are with Hong Kong customers and we are pleased that we will offer more next season.
"The World Pool at Royal Ascot again delivered significant growth with four of the five days producing record figures despite fluctuating weather conditions and the competing presence of the Euro 2020 Championship.
Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges said: "The Club is proud to live up to the commitment of betterment of Hong Kong society through racing betting duty and charitable contributions. With this outstanding performance of the season, we are able to do more for our community with a strategic focus that best meets the needs of Hong Kong people."