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Conghua Race Day Unveils A New Era For China Horse Racing

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HKJC photo

By Emily Chan

The Hong Kong Jockey Club hosted its first-ever raceday at the new Conghua Racecourse in Mainland China Saturday. The historic Exhibition Raceday was conducted in collaboration with the Conghua District Government and was a significant day for Hong Kong racing, as it marks the first time in the Club’s 135-year history that Hong Kong horses have been raced competitively in the Mainland.

Apart from Hong Kong-based horses, the five races on the day featured 16 of the 21 Hong Kong-based trainers and several of the top jockeys and followed Hong Kong’s rules of racing. Everything in the HK$3.7-billion Conghua facility is a replica of a race day in Hong Kong, from the design of the parade ring, to the racetracks, to the broadcasting centre to how the raceday is being held. Betting is banned in Mainland China, but the races were shown in Hong Kong on a 15-minute delay. The event attracted a crowd of close to 3,000 people, the majority of which were tourists from other provinces in China. One vision of the Conghua Racecourse is to make contributions to the tourism development of the Conghua District, famous for its natural hot springs resorts and lychee farms. Tickets for the event started from RMB 99 (USD 15) and were sold out in two weeks.

The first race, the 1200m Hong Kong Jockey Club Trophy, was won by Nordic Warrior (Ire) (Dutch Art {GB}), with trainer Richard Gibson and Jockey Matthew Chadwick producing the historic first race win at Conghua Racecourse and marking the start of a new era for horse racing in the Greater Bay Area.

“Absolutely this is a very big buzz and big career moment to win the first race here in Conghua and Matthew gave the horse a wonderful ride and we are delighted,” Gibson said after the race. “From the moment this race came on our radar, we targeted this horse for the race. We expected the pace to be very strong, we know our good horse is a finisher and Matthew gave him a wonderfully cool, calculated ride.”

“It couldn’t have gone better, it was basically a textbook ride and he was too good on the day. It’s first time up here for a meeting like this and I’m very happy to be part of it,” Chadwick said.

“I did say when I got the job in Hong Kong I wanted to be the first winner in Conghua,” Gibson remarked. “If you look back at the press conference, I said that in quite a loud voice. I’m looking forward to training here, our horses are doing great here and it’s great to be part of history today and to get the Cup from (HKSAR Chief Executive) Mrs Carrie Lam is obviously an extra privilege for us as well,” Gibson said.

Gibson is not the only trainer on the day who would like to train at both Conghua and Sha Tin. First-season conditioner Jimmy Ting won race two and has now won with his first runners at Conghua, Sha Tin and Happy Valley this season.

“I am very happy. I don’t really know how to say about winning the first time at each track but I am happy,” Ting said. “And if later I set up a stable here in Conghua, today’s race day is a good experience for me.”

Conghua racecourse was officially opened Aug. 28, 2018 and nine trainers in Hong Kong, including the legendary John Moore, are now training horses out of both Conghua and Hong Kong. The Club is looking to add another four trainers to set up dual-site stables by July this year. The Conghua Training Centre is the only internationally-recognized Equine Disease Free Zone in Mainland China and maintains strict biosecurity measures enable horses in Conghua and Sha Tin to carry the same health status. Horses were shuttled from Hong Kong to Conghua for the raceday in specially designed horse floats.

“The facilities are second to none here at Conghua,” said Moore. “I know it’s a ways from Hong Kong, but I’ve had horses here for quite a while now and I have no complaints whatsoever. It’s a fantastic training complex and I’ll be fully utilising it.” Moore sent out the Silvestre de Sousa-ridden The Createth (Aus) (Henrythenavigator) to win the day’s fourth race.

The Exhibition Race Day was attended by government officials from Beijing, Guangdong and Hong Kong.

“The next step for us is definitely a review and I can see that we have now in a way have comfort to host another race meeting next year,” said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the Chief Executive Officer of the Club. “It is about the sport and that it is entertainment of course. Conghua is a complement to Hong Kong, not a substitution.”

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