Young Ranger (GB) (Dutch Art-Photographie by Trempolino)
The Hong Kong Jockey Club’s average member is aged 52 and the average owner around 60. Membership is prestigious and owning a horse all the more so. Both are difficult to achieve as several steps need to be taken to join the HKJC and the subsequent opportunities to race a horse are limited.
Each year around 2000 members keenly apply for around 250 to 300 ownership permits and each person can only race up to four horses at a time. And it can take years to join the HKJC with only 200 or so people eligible to nominate prospective members.
So it seems, with its long waiting lists, the HKJC does not really need to concern itself with promoting the attractions of membership and racing horses. However, under the leadership of Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, it has never been an organisation to rest on its laurels and the future is always in mind. Which is why, in September 2007, The Racing Club was launched as a subsidiary of the HKJC. It was set up to encourage youthful participation.
And in no time it was off and running, the following month a group of its enthusiastic members went to Ascot and in November others to the Melbourne Cup. By December of that year the club had purchased its first horse Young Label (remembering that normally only full HKJC members can race a horse). There were cheers across Sha Tin when that New Zealand bred son of Cape Cross won at his debut in June 2008.
It has been onwards and upwards for the club since that time; with trips to Karaka in NZ, Japan, Singapore and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France all being well attended. It is, says Racing Club Advisory Committee Member Gary Ling, not only a wonderful social opportunity for young racing enthusiasts, but also a chance to learn more about the sport that so excites the Hong Kong public.
“There are many valuable benefits to being a member,” he said. “We take people behind the scenes, we visit stables and encourage dialogue between owners, jockeys and trainers. We host dinner parties and make people really feel a part of it.”
More than 1000 people aged between 20 and 40 are members of the club and when one of the club’s three horses is to race (currently Young Dreamer, Young Empire and Young Ranger) a ballot is held for race day privileges.
Consisting of around 60% men and 40% women, the Racing Club (a kind of membership apprenticeship; just 10 to 20 of its members each year are recommended to become HKJC members) not only educates but encourages the love of the thoroughbred, its ownership arm named “Pride of Horse”.
“The horses are the most valuable benefit of membership,” Gary Ling said. He enjoyed watching big groups cheer home the Dutch Art gelding Young Ranger to three victories at Sha Tin and Happy Valley last year. With further trips planned to Dubai and Goodwood, the club also makes the most of what Hong Kong has to offer with members each month offered multiple choices to take a look behind the scenes.
For example, in January alone, members could pay homage to their horses at the stables, take a look at the jockey’s room at Sha Tin, participate in a keenly contested tipping competition, watch the stipendiary stewards and clerk of scales at work during a Happy Valley meeting, attend a barrier draw or visit and chat with officials in the judge’s box. Other activities offered include watching a race from the caller’s box, visiting riding schools in the New Territories, witnessing vets and farriers at work and enjoying breakfasts at barrier trial mornings.
The club also looks beyond racing with Ling noting it is always on the look-out for new opportunities to embrace all that may attract the young; “fashion, food, technology, careers, sport, cars, photography . . . we do a lot of different things to bring our members together.”
And there is no better person than Ling to promote racing, the HKJC member, who has raced horses for 19 years, is passionate about the sport, taking great pleasure from involving others.
“It is great to see new people learning to love horses and horse racing,” he said.
Ling, who also races horses in Australia with Lindsay Park (the Gr.3 galloper Charm Scene Land one of his best), reached an ownership pinnacle in 2014 when his tough and talented sprinter Sterling City won the Dubai Golden Shaheen-Gr.1 (1200m) at Meydan. Also a three times Group winner in Hong Kong, he has provided his owner with many a memorable moment.
An example of the new breed of young Hong Kong owner is successful businesswoman Fione Yip. At first she went racing “only once or twice a year as business entertainment” but she is now a enthusiastic regular.
“It was not until my boyfriend, who is an owner and die-hard racing fan, started to take me to every race meeting about five years ago that I seriously started to study the races; well he forced me to,” she laughed. “Once I started to pick a few winners by myself I couldn’t help but develop a genuine interest.”
This only increased as she fell under the spell of a horse. “Epee de Hua was my first love,” she said of an Australia bred Snaadee gelding who raced between 2008 and 2013. “He belonged to a syndicate headed by my boyfriend. I went to the stable to play with him about twice a month, and nagged him to run better. He was only Class 5 (the lowest in Hong Kong) but he unbelievably brought us seven wins.
“I believe it had something to do with my frequent visits and love for him. I persuaded the syndicate to send him back to Australia when he retired and he now he lives at Newhaven Park.”
Now well and truly hooked, Yip became a HKJC member and in November 2013 enjoyed the thrill of her very own winner, an Akhadan gelding by the name of Silly Buddies. “I made special efforts to get up to see all his four barrier trials before his debut and it did pay off as he won his first and second races.”
He’s had three more wins too and the John Size trained six year-old was successful at his most recent outing at Sha Tin in early December. Yip did not have as much luck with her next horse, the unplaced Crazy Buddies, but she still had great affection for the horse as she does for them all. She is looking forward to the careers of her boyfriend’s yet to be raced Mossman gelding My Darling and another to be named Fionesay, who Australian racegoers will know as Jacksay, a dual winner and Flemington runner-up last winter.
So what is it about racing that so engages Yip? It is, she says, a combination of factors including her bond with the animal. “I like the horses in the first place as a pet. And then there is the unparalleled fulfilment of picking a winner. And the satisfaction of helping to plan a winning race, the choice of races, of jockey and developing the riding instructions.
“Last but not the least is the development of a group of friends all with a common hobby. I have made numerous friends in this circle; with other owners, with reporters, racing officials, stewards, trainers and jockeys.”
And she has made fans of her friends and family. “I make them enjoy it! As my boyfriend did with me, I first brought them along to just watch, then I began to explain things and teach them a bit and finally made them study by themselves until they succeeded in picking a few winners.
“By this way we have indoctrinated several friends who are now working hard to scramble for a Jockey Club membership. And I have made racing the official family gathering function both with my parents and my parents-in-law to be.”
Yip attends every race meeting she can, “we are 100% there unless we are out of town, whether or not our horses are racing, and we visit our horses in the stables a couple of times a month,” she said. With a varied business background working at PR companies, sitting on a hospital board, directing a children’s dance academy and owning an investment company, Yip personifies the new owner the HKJC should continue to be keen to encourage; a passionate ambassador for all that is good about horse racing.
Published February 2016