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EARTH TO E.B

Updated: Jan 15



Whether they are the remnants of the lockdown years or those misguided attempts at fighting for “democracy” which were always going to end in tears, or the introduction in 2020 of the National Security Law Act, Hong Kong has been in a vice like grip of fear and an unhealthy uneasiness for the last couple of years. 


Unless living in Hong Kong, it’s something hard to explain. 


So, last week when Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the CEO of the HKJC, mentioned to SCMP racing writer Sam Agars that the Hong Kong government only seems to see HK racing as being something of a fat cash cow through the income from betting taxes that flows in regularly, it became a talking point- even to non race goers. 


What did he mean? 


What was being said between the lines?


Who is he?


In quite a reflective mood, WEB also mentioned how John KS Lee, the Chief Executive of the city, shows more support for sporting events like the Rugby Sevens and the recent ATP HK Tennis Open while ignoring major horse racing events like last year’s Hong Kong International Races. 



There was some weird synchronicity involved when the most important day in the Hong Kong racing calendar clashed with the was held on important District Board Elections.

 

No one at 1 Sports Road saw this car crash coming despite all the planning?

 

This leads one down the bumpy road to RSN, a sports and racing radio station in Melbourne that is a business partner with the HKJC in promoting HK racing. 

 

In their radio spots, they describe betting on Hong Kong racing as “just like betting on Australian racing because of the well known Australian jockeys, the trainers and even Australian race callers involved”. 

 

In these over-sensitive days, one just might wonder what the Chief Executive of Hong Kong would make of a Made In Hong Kong product being described as being so Australian in its product personality?

 

With Australia these days three hours ahead of Hong Kong, how big an audience and turnover from Down Under does Hong Kong racing attract even with the mention of often confusing wagering terms like “commingling” and the HKJC “world pool”?

 

Same goes for whenever there’s racing in Hong Kong on a Saturday afternoon which takes place at the tail end of the wall-to-wall racing throughout Australia.

 

While asking questions, how many horses from Australia competed in last year’s HKIR races?

 

None. 

 

It made more sense for these horses to stay home because of quarantine issues when this equine talent returned to Australia.

 

Having once been the head of the HK police before taking up the role of Security chief, and now Chief Executive, John Lee is no fool. 

 

He’s also not like Carrie Lam who was an ally of the HKJC and its CEO and banged the golden gong on the first day of the new racing season.

 


For the HKJC CEO, it’s come down to working on a delicate balancing act- keeping betting turnover on horse racing ticking over and also making the time to understand customer behaviour trends in 2024 and not being seen as the same old one trick pony in a blue suit from the days of yore.


E.B needs to face some home truths when it comes to the “entertainment” fare laid on these days at the races for an ageing population of racing fans, budget tour groups from China, and those who show up at the Beer Garden for a cheap night out. 


None of this exactly makes the HK racing product glow with good vibes and a hootenanny of shiny happy people.


Perhaps all this isn’t that far removed from what E.B is thinking to himself and the reason for the interview with the SCMP?


With the Singapore Turf Club being forced to close down by the Singapore government in October and make way for housing and racing in Macau said to be closing down in March, this is bound to cause speculation about the future of racing in “Hong Kong, China” and how the business model might change.


Rumours of racing in Conghua in 2025 or 2027? Que?


The question is what can be done at this late stage of the innings to keep the Hong Kong racing gravy train running and, at the same time, make up for all that was lost- including goodwill- during those lockdown and racing bubble years?


For the HKJC, perhaps it’s time to look at creating something like a themed festival that celebrates what Hong Kong has to offer to a mainstream local audience- something big enough to be covered by the international media and which attracts international tourism?


Depending on the global racing media to help spread the word is not that different to horse racing talking to others running racing clubs.


What’s the point?


Why can’t this “Celebration Of Hong Kong” take place once every two months for 4-5 days at the Happy Valley and Shatin racecourses and where invited could be the city’s sporting heroes like champion swimmer Siobhan Haughey, and fencer Edgar Cheung, below, to be part of this “philanthropic” salute to Hong Kong?



John Lee is certain to attend- and endorse- an initiative like this that is a true Made In Hong Kong product that doesn’t have a flashing neon sign that screams out the word “gambling”.



We’ll even get the ball rolling by donating the original painting below of Siobhan Haughey by Perth based artist Louise Farnay to any charity actively involved in making this city come together as one team.




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