Following a distinguished career with the New York Racing Association, in which he rose to the number two executive position, Bill Nader served a first tour of duty with the Hong Kong Jockey Club as its Executive Director of Racing for eight years. Nader returned to the U.S. in January 2016, but just over one year ago, it was announced that he would return to the HKJC as its Director of Racing, Business Operations. On the eve of the BMW Hong Kong Derby and with entries for FWD Champions Day set to close early next week, the TDN’s Alan Carasso posed a series of questions on the current state of Hong Kong Racing, his feelings about the new Conghua Racecourse and Hong Kong’s position on the world racing stage:
TDN: Tuesday will mark one year since your return to the saddle at the HKJC? How do you reflect upon the last 12 months?
Bill Nader: This is such an amazing place to be for horse racing. It’s very familiar to me, the stakes are high and everything moves fast. The one big difference has been the opening of Conghua, a project I was involved with at the outset and I was able to be back in time for the official opening in August.
TDN: The training centre at Conghua is up and running and has been critically acclaimed. Can you articulate just what the CTC means to racing in Hong Kong now and into the future?
BN: We now call it CRC–Conghua Racecourse. This might be the single biggest initiative in the history of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which was founded in 1884. Racing here has graduated from amateur to professional to elite, and Conghua will play a big part in maintaining and improving that status. It allows for an expansion in the horse population and opens up new avenues for success. The facilities are outstanding and we are now operating on a three-track platform of Sha Tin and Happy Valley in Hong Kong with Conghua in Mainland under the umbrella of the Greater Bay area.
TDN: CTC, or should I say CRC, is set to stage a day of racing, minus wagering, of course, on Mar. 23. How critical an event is this from the Club’s perspective?
BN: It’s historic and it will be one of those rare days that merit the word unforgettable. This is the first-ever Hong Kong Jockey Club race meeting in the Mainland. It is a breakthrough achievement to bring the entire engine across the border, the horses, the prize money, owners, jockeys, trainers, racing officials and television coverage in Hong Kong and China. Many people in attendance will be seeing top-class horse racing for the first time and there will be high ranking Government officials also there to witness the occasion.
TDN: The Club certainly must be pleased with the news from the past week that Australian authorities are prepared to loosen the travel restrictions on Australian horses.
BN: The interim arrangement came just in time to give us a fighting chance to allow Australian-based horses the opportunity to participate in Champions Day on Apr. 28. This is a critical step forward and we remain keen for DAWR (Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources) to complete its evaluation to pave the way for a full reinstatement of bilateral movements of horses between Australia and Hong Kong. We certainly appreciate the work of DAWR and the HKSAR AFCD (Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department) in reaching this interim agreement.
TDN: Last year’s Longines Hong Kong International Races saw locally based horses sweep all four events, an historical first. On the one hand, that fact exemplifies the strength of the racing product in Hong Kong, but do you see it as a double-edged sword in any way in that perhaps, like Japan, there may be a hesitance to ship in for races that are increasingly hard to win?
BN: I certainly hope not. The prize money is in the top echelon and the entire experience for the owner, trainer, jockey and the horse is positively first class. The value proposition is intact. It would be a real longshot that a clean sweep could happen again, as the overall competition is simply too good. History shows that every part of the world can win here.
TDN: Although Hong Kong’s biggest names (i.e. Beauty Generation, Exultant, Mr Stunning) are swerving Dubai World Cup night, the jurisdiction will be represented by at least a few very nice horses, including Southern Legend in the Dubai Turf and Gold Mount in the staying race, the Dubai Gold Cup. How do you assess their chances?
BN: Southern Legend is a good horse and is in good form, but he would need to win the race of his life to win the Dubai Turf to match up with Almond Eye and Dream Castle. Gold Mount will be making a big leap from 2000m to 3200m in the Dubai World Cup, but he is proven over 2400 and it will be interesting to see how he goes over that trip. We also have Wishful Thinker for the Al Quoz and another horse named Fight Hero, which finished second in the Korea Sprint last year, a possibility for the Golden Shaheen.
TDN: The Club has done some shifting of the calendar to create a mini HKIR day in early spring, including the QE II Cup, the Champions Mile and the Chairman’s Sprint Prize. The races are well positioned relative to DWC night and to a lesser extent, The Championships. What is the Club doing to try to encourage participation from outside of Hong Kong?
BN: We did this for the first time last year and attendance was up 50%. We will have the track in top condition and an overseas trainer can bring more than one horse with three major Group 1 races to pick from. Free entries close on March 18 and it is a perfect fit on the global calendar, four weeks after the Dubai World Cup race meeting. The Longines Hong Kong International Races in December is our flagship event, but we now have the second part of a strong one-two punch. It also encourages our Hong Kong owners to compete at the top end as well as solidify the Hong Kong brand as one that is global as opposed to local.
TDN: For a jurisdiction as small and insular as Hong Kong, it churns out a huge number of top-class runners, including word’s best miler Beauty Generation. This must be a source of great pride for the Club.
BN: This is a great source of pride for all of Hong Kong. Horse racing is such a big part of the social fabric here and you have to remember that this is a small place with only 7.5 million people and 1300 race horses. Beauty Generation has developed into a real star. Hong Kong is also home to 11 of the world’s Top 100 Group 1 races and it has been exciting to see Hong Kong people develop a true appreciation for international racing.
TDN: Where do you see Hong Kong racing 10 years from now?
BN: It will continue to be an industry leader. This is an almost perfect racing and business model with government and the community as important and respected stakeholders. It has such a solid foundation and now with the implementation and further development of Conghua, it can only get stronger. Ten years from now, I will be watching from somewhere else with interest and I expect great things.