THW: Hong Kong Racing, Part 1

THE HOARSE WHISPERER By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 11 February 2009, Wednesday

Hong Kong Racing, Part 1

Horseracing is one of the most exciting spectacles, wherever in the world it may be found. In Hong Kong, the 124-year old Hong Kong Jockey Club has raised racing to new heights with its operations at its two racecourses – at Happy Valley and Sha Tin racecourses.

Happy Valley is the older of the two tracks and is the place to go “for fun”, as a tour guide in Hong Kong said. Sha Tin is “world-class”.

Since land is at a premium in Hong Kong, stables aren’t single-story barns like they are here or in Australia, the USA, or most other racing nations. Rather, stables are three- or four-story buildings accessed via ramps. They look like mall parking lots.

Multi-storey stables at Sha Tin are accessed via ramps.

All the stables are located at Sha Tin, in the New Territories. That same facility includes an elegant clubhouse; equine hospital; equine pool; forge; and chemical laboratory, one of only four top-class equine labs in the world.

Facade of Sha Tin Racecourse, New Territories

Attention to detail: a horseshoe-shaped drain

Training track at Sha Tin

Hong Kong’s top female apprentice brushes her horse’s tail. The bedding, changed twice a day,  is of shredded newspapers.

A curious horse peeks at visitors.

The equine hospital is headed by veterinarian Dr. Lawrence Chan. Since there are no vet schools in Hong Kong, he took his degree in Australia. Dr. Chan pointed out that his hospital has state-of-the art ultrasound equipment; an operating theatre with a large hydraulic table; a gamma ray machine; treadmills to gauge horses’ cardiac health; and an overhead pulley system to transport horses all around the hospital in slings. Surveillance is via a 24-hour CCTV system.

The equine operating theater has a hydraulic table.

Dr. Chan in the recovery room beside the operating theater.

The equine pool is large and very clean. The flooring is of rubberized matting to protect horses’ hooves. After a dip, a trainer may opt for heat treatment for his horse at the adjacent solarium and its bank of infrared lights.

A horse is worked in the equine pool.

After a pool workout, the horse gets an infrared heat treatment in the solarium.

The forge is also high-tech. Several blacksmiths are on duty to create and repair horseshoes, bits, and other metal tack used in riding.

The forge.

The laboratory, headed by chemist Dr. Terence Wan, contains over US$8 million worth of equipment and is upgraded as often as new equipment is invented. The lab, which monitors equine and urine samples in compliance with the HKJC’s strict rules against horse doping, has received many awards for its accomplishments.

Dr. Terence Wan in the HKJC laboratory.

Dr. Wan, who formerly worked in forensics, instituted several streamlining and safeguarding procedures to ensure the credibility of his lab’s findings so that they are admissible in court. Among his innovations are security cameras that record all lab technicians’ movements during investigation of a sample. When the technicians leave their counter, the cameras guard the samples.

The HKJC lab also has huge vaults where the specimens are stored. Access to these vaults, and to those drawers that hold other chemicals, are strictly regulated, with multiple backup and failsafe systems.

The lab processes equine and human (jockeys’) blood and urine samples, and monitors feeds and supplements as well. Their equipment is so sensitive that they can detect the presence of chemicals in the parts per billion. Samples from all over the world are sent to them for testing.

Dr. Wan points out the difference in samples of horses’ urine held by his assistant Jenny. The lighter-colored sample has had its sediments removed and is now ready for analysis. Dr. Wan says is harder to analyze horses’ urine – “We prefer human urine any day!”

Dr. Wan says their lab, staffed with 43 chemists, is so efficient that they have “never had a false positive”.

The racecourses, both at Happy Valley and Sha Tin, are magnificent. Happy Valley has turf, while Sha Tin has both turf and dirt (which they call an “all-weather surface”). Racing is held only twice a week from September to June – Wednesdays at Happy Valley, and Sundays at Sha Tin. The latter has its own MTR (train) station that makes a detour to the racecourse on racedays only.

Happy Valley’s turf track is nestled in the heart of the city.

Sha Tin’s turf and dirt tracks

With racing revenues at over US$12 billion a year, it is no wonder that the HKJC can afford such world-class facilities.  Philippine racing makes P8 billion annually, which could be more if illegal bookie operations were halted. With the limitation in our resources, the most we can do is emulate the best practices we observe in racing abroad, and tailor them to fit our local circumstances.   ***

All photos by Jenny Ortuoste, taken with a Nikon D60, basic lens.

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10 Comments on THW: Hong Kong Racing, Part 1

  1. NiHAWmA
    13 February 2009 at 6:26 am (3471 days ago)

    Upon seeing the photos, it reminds me of our two world class race tracks. San Lazaro Leisure Park. Saddle and Clubs Leisure Park.

    How can you compare them besides not having a turf?
    Are the bends too sharp?
    Do the horses race wide also? about 4 wide upon reaching the last bend.
    Do you see horses who runaway because of the starting gate helpers inability to control/handle?

  2. NiHAWmA
    15 February 2009 at 3:12 am (3469 days ago)

    For your readers (additional info)

    Single-Race Bets

    Pool Name – Dividend Qualification

    * Win – 1st in a race.
    * Place – 1st, 2nd or 3rd in a race with 7 or more declared starters or 1st, 2nd in a race with 4, 5, 6 declared starters.
    * Quinella – 1st and 2nd in either order in the race.
    * Quinella Place – Any two of the first three placed horses in any finishing order in the race.
    * Trio – 1st, 2nd and 3rd in any order in the race.
    * Tierce – 1st, 2nd and 3rd in correct order in the race.
    * First Four – 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th in any order in the race.

    As of September 2006, all Win, Place, Quinella, and Quinella Place bets (including All Up bets) of a value of at least 10,000 Hong Kong Dollars are eligible for a 10% rebate if the bet or betline loses.

    Multiple-Race Bets

    Pool Name – Dividend Qualification – Consolation [if any]

    * Double – 1st in two nominated races – 1st in 1st leg and 2nd in 2nd leg.
    * Treble – 1st in three nominated races – 1st in first two legs and 2nd in third leg.
    * Double Trio – 1st, 2nd and 3rd in any order in both legs.
    * Triple Trio – 1st, 2nd and 3rd in any order in three legs – 1st, 2nd and 3rd in any order in any two Triple Trio legs.
    * Six Up – 1st or 2nd in each of the legs nominated to comprise the Six Up – 1st or 2nd in each of the legs nominated to comprise the Six Up.

    Fixed-odds Bets

  3. haksek
    16 February 2009 at 1:55 pm (3468 days ago)

    The difference in the way they race here …compared to ours is …first, they race clockwise. horses turn wide in the stretch yeah because of traffic unlike the way they turn for home on ours wherein for no apparent reason, they turn wide.
    Here, once the gates open, you jockey for position…it’s almost a no, no if you get caught 4 wide and without cover. They (jockeys) usually want cover, meaning, they most of the time want to produce their runs before turning for home and the stretch is where the battle begins, since they have longer homestretch than ours.

    The Happy Valley which is located at the heart of the city is a tight racecourse compared to Shatin where the International races are held.

    Oh and they have racing breaks too. They start off the season during September and usually ends during summer, when the weather is harsh for horses and they need to get the turf in perfect condition too.

    Seldom you see runaway horses here because scratched horses means loss in revenue, they dont like that. In effect they have professionals manning the gates. They also have attendants on horsebacks to run after them in such cases.

    And the one last difference that i know of…..they dont bet on illegal bookies. Hence the hefty prizes!

    The key…….. have OTB’s everywhere! it’s like where the bookies are backhome, it’s everywhere.

    I suggest you try and visit
    Almost everything you need to know about the jockey club is available here..

  4. Cheltenham Cup Fan
    17 February 2009 at 5:07 pm (3466 days ago)

    Superb post. I never knew that much about racing in Hong Kong and I found your incredible post very informative. They really have state of the art facilities there. Also thanks for the great photos.

  5. Jenny
    24 February 2009 at 2:42 pm (3460 days ago)

    @Cheltenham: thanks for the nice words! We were lucky in that as guests of the HKJC, we were given a tour of restricted areas and permission to take pictures. :)

  6. NiHAWmA
    31 March 2009 at 4:07 am (3425 days ago)

    The article of Chip Tsao in “The War at Home” (HK Magazine) is racially discriminatory. A racial slur. This type of derogatory remark is degrading and an insult to Filipinos. It is not humurous. It is unjust and belittles the capability of a Filipino. The presence of some of the Filipinos helps their economy because of their services. Why are they interested about the services of the Filipinos? Some of the local businesses as well as multi-national companies are being manage by Filipino nationals who are based in Hongkong. Filipinos make an important contribution to their society. Their contribution is undeniable though some has been unfairly treated.

    His article “The War at Home” is very insulting and a degrading article. Such statement is racist. The article isn’t funny but offensive.

    In other countries, they celebrate bad statements/news because it gives them chance to change. BUT NOT FOR FILIPINOS.

    This kind of article should be condemn. I beleive in satirical writing BUT NOT AS A NATIONAL OF SERVANTS. Satirical writing can be read in different ways BUT not in this particular article.

    Chip Tsao should be declared as a persona non grata because of that very damaging insulting article. He can just simply criticized certain policy but not the Philippines as a whole. As a whole because Chip Tsao was pertaining to the Filipinos.

    It is not understandable if he is just one person and not as a government. But as a writer or journalist, Chip Tsao should know what’s the meaning of responsible journalism.

    Kindly teach Chip Tsao, Ms. Jen. Please explain to him what’s the meaning of responsible journalism.

  7. NiHAWmA
    1 April 2009 at 1:52 am (3424 days ago)

    CHIP TSAO should know that the job of the househelpers requires devotion, lots of patience, hard work and dedication. That is why people work abroad for greener pastures. Are they paid properly? In most cases they are underpaid and abused. And yet they still continue to do their job to support their own family. Most of them (sad to say) just swallow their pride. Take note Chip Tsao that most of them has a good educational attainment.

    Chip Tsao doen not have one of the most important character traits. RESPECT.. to human beings. Lots of respect should be given to them. People should come to realize the value of their work as well as their worth.

    Chip Tsao does not have the morale values and was not raised properly. In short, Chip Tsao has a wrong upbringing.

  8. Gina Mabey
    14 April 2009 at 7:27 am (3411 days ago)

    Please can you help me ,I own a retired Australia race horse who was imported to Hong Kong in 1996.His name was Forest Spring .Owned by Chao King Lin & Joseph Sin Hon Pun. Trained mostly by L Fownes and Y O Wong.I am coming over on a holiday from the 27th April and would love to see the trainging stables that my horse use to live in ,I do not know how to get hold of the right person. Please if you can help please let me know or fewer contacts would be great cheers Gina

  9. Jenny
    15 April 2009 at 12:34 pm (3410 days ago)

    @Gina Mabey: Please contact Ms. Priscilla Chan, Public Affairs Coordinator, The Hong Kong Jockey Club, via email at

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