The role of the Hong Kong Jockey Club's (HKJC) Conghua Racecourse as a catalyst for the further developement of horse racing in China was outlined at the 38th Asian Racing Conference (ARC) in Cape Town, South Africa.
Mr. Andrew Harding, the Asian Racing Federation's Secretary General and the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Executive Director, Racing, addressed delegates at a session titled ‘Major Developments and Current Strategies in the Asian Region’.
Positive updates on numerous aspects of equestrian sport in China were reported – including horse tourism, horse imports, industry training, prize money and sponsorship – but Conghua was singled out for its exceptional facilities and its potential “to make the Greater Bay Area an epicentre for the horse industry in the Mainland.”
The Jockey Club’s flagship Mainland racecourse and training complex, situated 200km north of Hong Kong, was opened in 2018. It now houses around 20 per cent of Hong Kong’s 1300-strong racehorse population and plays an invaluable role helping trainers prepare horses in a different environment, with almost 20 percent of all winners at Sha Tin and Happy Valley having been trained from Conghua since their previous outing during the current racing season.
Mr. Harding said: “Conghua is undoubtedly one of the most significant recent major racing developments in the Asian region. This is a world-class thoroughbred racing and training facility with state-of-the-art facilities including four tracks, an uphill turf gallop, a world-class equine hospital with extensive rehabilitation facilities and exceptional vocational training programmes that provide people with the necessary skills to prepare horses to compete at elite level.”
Hong Kong’s world-class racing was seen in the Mainland for the first time when Conghua staged its historic first Exhibition Raceday in front of an enthusiastic crowd including a range of senior officials in March 2019 and another such event is planned in the second half of 2020.
Mr. Harding continued: “The racecourse has been recognised as an Equine Disease-Free Zone (EDFZ), the only one of its type for racehorses in the Mainland, and this enables horses to travel seamlessly between Hong Kong and Conghua on a weekly basis. Conghua’s EDFZ status is internationally recognised, most recently by the Australian government, so that the high-class health status of the Hong Kong horse population is now fully replicated at Conghua.”
A proposal is in place for a special Asian Racing Federation China conference as part of Conghua’s second Exhibition Raceday, while Mr. Harding signed off by stressing the value of a planned facility to help horses acquire internationally-recognised health status, thereby enabling seamless movement between China and overseas.
“In terms of future development, one area that is being explored is the prospect for this infrastructure to be complemented by the development of an International Quarantine Station,” he added. “This could really take the Conghua venture in an exciting new direction and enable the Greater Bay Area to become an epicentre for the horse industry.”
Conference hears how South Africa is preparing to re-enter the international arena
The 38th Asian Racing Conference also examined South Africa's struggle in attaining the European Union's tick of approval to reintroduce swift import and export protocols during a session titled 'Promoting the International Movement of Horses'.
Mr. Adrian Todd, Managing Director, South African Equine Health and Protocols NPC, said: “In 2013, we failed a European Union audit, having already been restricted from sending our horses abroad due to African Horse Sickness. We failed because we deserved to fail. Our systems were not up to scratch and we could not provide the guarantees that were needed to provide safe exports.
“In 2020, we are ready once again for another European Union audit, which will occur in late April. This is a critical step in allowing South Africa the chance to re-enter the international arena. It gives us the ability to race internationally, to host international races and to trade internationally, which is vital for the future of our local industry - the 'splendid isolation' in which we have existed is simply not sustainable.
“We want to thank our international partners, in particular the Hong Kong Jockey Club. They have stood by us and enabled us to be on the platforms to put forward to the world what we've achieved over the last few years.”
Among the Hong Kong Jockey Club's efforts to assist South Africa has been a £100,000 grant to fund research into a next-generation vaccine to provide further protection against African Horse Sickness.
Dr. Baptiste Dungu, Chief Executive Officer of Onderstepoort Biological Products, which manufactures the vaccine said: “We are extremely grateful to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, because funding is hard to attain. African Horse Sickness is not a big market for a vaccine manufacturer and most of the multi-nationals are not interested in such markets. It is only through funding like this that we are able to push forward.”
Mr. Andrew Harding, the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Executive Director of Racing, said that the ability for South Africa to step onto the world stage once more will have an economic flow-on effect throughout the industry.
He said: “This is going to benefit breeders, with good bloodstock being available, and there is a benefit internationally for owners being able to access that. But it goes beyond that to racing as well. Only three weeks ago, Hong Kong simulcast the seven races on the Sun Met card. US$25 million was bet on those races in Hong Kong alone which provides an income back for the local racing industry here.
“International movement of horses is so important for both breeding and racing purposes. We need to see the great racehorses trained by Mike de Kock and others in South Africa going overseas and likewise horses being able to travel here and race. That unlocks so much potential, which of course has been the theme of the 38th Asian Racing Conference.”