By Alan Carasso
Racing continues Saturday with a 10-race program at Sha Tin, even as the coronavirus outbreak that has its origins in Mainland China is causing some major contingency planning by officials at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
Over the last few weeks, attendance at live meetings at Sha Tin in the New Territories to the north and at Happy Valley Racecourse on Hong Kong Island to the south has been restricted to those with pre-existing reservations, with public areas closed. The Chinese New Year racecard at Sha Tin, which normally attracts better than 100,000 people to the tracks, was witnessed by just by fewer than 9,000 racegoers. The jovial, carefree mid-week atmosphere at Happy Valley has given way to a nearly empty grandstand in recent weeks.
The situation figures to get worse before it gets any better. HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges has already surmised that the coronavirus-induced restrictions would continue for up to two months. Earlier this week, with the government saying that the next two weeks are critical in the effort to contain the disease, the HKJC announced the closure of all 101 off-track betting branches in Hong Kong.
The Club has further restricted attendance on track to “trainers, jockeys, club officials, as well as stewards and voting members who oversee the governance of the club and race meetings, only horse owners and their guests will be admitted to the racecourses.”
On Feb. 6, the HKJC, in conjunction with the Macau Jockey Club, announced the cancellation of the Hong Kong-Macau Interport series-the Mar. 15 Macau Hong Kong Trophy at Taipa and the Hong Kong Macau Trophy at Sha Tin in May. Neither race will be rescheduled.
For its part, the Macau Jockey Club cancelled meetings scheduled for Feb. 1, 7, 9 and 15. There has been no racing in Macau since Jan. 18, owing in part to the Lunar New Year holiday. On Feb. 4, Macau officials asked operators of local casinos to cease operations for two weeks.
Hong Kong’s 13 trainers who maintain operations both in Hong Kong and at the HKJC’s Conghua Training Centre, as well as jockeys who travel for barrier trials at the facility, will not be permitted to do so near-term, South China Morning Post reported Friday. Horses in Conghua will be cared for by on-site stable personnel only.