Hong Kong’s season of achievements ends on a high

John Size collected his 11th champion trainer title and Zac Purton his third champion jockey trophy at the end of the programme at Sha Tin on Sunday, which capped a captivating 2018/19 Hong Kong racing season.

Sha Tin on the final day of the 2018/19 season on Sunday, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Sha Tin on the final day of the 2018/19 season on Sunday, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

An enthusiastic crowd of 51,000 people turned out to see Size post a double to repel John Moore’s challenge for championship honours. That turnout was the highest since 2012 and took the season’s total attendance to 2.21 million, a 3.3% increase on the 2017/18 season.

Mr. Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, Chief Executive Officer at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, said: “John Size won a fantastic battle for the trainers’ championship with John Moore and that definitely enticed a lot of customers to come racing – we could not have planned it better.”

The day’s turnover of HK$1.966 billion was a record for the day and pushed the season’s total turnover to a new high of HK$124.8 billion, albeit by only 0.4%.

The CEO said: “Today we had record turnover for a season finale. It has been a challenging year with a lot of ups and downs, so to end the season with an increase in turnover is one of several positives we will take into next season.

“The major growth driver was definitely commingling, which showed fantastic results and increased by 13 per cent. But what counts is the gross margin, and, in the circumstances of a challenging environment we are very satisfied that we have seen that increase by one per cent to HK$5.54 billion.”

Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges applauded the many sporting achievements in a season that produced world class stars in Beauty Generation and Exultant, and also saw Zac Purton achieve records and milestones, including a season’s best 168 wins, a total just two short of Joao Moreira’s record.

He said: “We have to salute our champions. This was a fantastic year for the quality of Hong Kong racing. We have only 0.7 per cent of the world’s racehorse population, but when you see the quality of races and horses we have here it is something Hong Kong can be extremely proud of.

“It takes a lot of effort in a very competitive environment to achieve these results. We have no breeding industry, so we depend on our owners to bring the right horses in to help continue these amazing results year on year. Once again, to see 25 Hong Kong horses in the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings and eleven of Hong Kong’s twelve Group 1 contests in the World’s Top 100 Group 1 Races is extremely satisfying.

“Zac Purton’s performance across the whole season was incredible. He broke his own personal record with 168 winners, won seven Group 1 races along the way, and also broke Joao Moreira’s single season prize money record. He is an exceptional champion jockey.”

Purton’s 168 tally is the second-highest in Hong Kong history; it featured an unprecedented seven Group 1 wins at Sha Tin; his 1000th Hong Kong victory; record prize money of HK$234 .9 million; and a third champion jockey title.

“It is amazing what I have been able to achieve this season, just getting to that number of winners, I do not think anyone thought it was possible,” said Purton.

“It has been an incredible season when you reflect back on the milestones, the records and the successes I have had, it is quite astonishing and a season it is going to be very hard to equal and extremely hard to top. I owe everything to the owners and trainers that give me the support.

“It is one season that I think I will always remember for many different reasons, I would not have minded if this season had kept rolling on forever,” he said.

Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges also applauded Tony Cruz Award winner Vincent Ho, a product of the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s renowned Apprentice Jockeys’ School.

He said: “Vincent Ho is definitely a deserving winner of the Tony Cruz Award. He is a perfect example of our commitment to grooming Hong Kong talent and striving for excellence, and it was really fitting that he won the very last race of the season on Fast Most Furious.”

John Size had a two-win lead over John Moore going into Sunday. When the last horse crossed the line 11 races later, that advantage had extended to three and an 11th premiership was his.

The Australian ended the day with 78 wins to Moore’s 75, outpointing his rival two to one on the day. His double started with Monkey Jewellery in race four and the championship was wrapped up with Aerohappiness’s victory in the seventh.

“It is a big relief when you win,” Size said after he had matched Moore’s father George Moore’s record of 11 championships.

“It is difficult, it is not that easy, so you just have to put your head down and keep going, do your best for every individual in the stable and you might come up with a championship.”

The handler, who turned 65 on Wednesday, acknowledged the effort and commitment of his stable staff.

“You cannot put a price on morale, so when you are winning it helps everybody, it helps the whole stable. My team has been with me for many years so they know what is involved, they know that if they keep going it will probably work out well,” he said.

Conghua Racecourse opened in August last year and the first race meeting was staged there in March. The facility has already proved its worth to the Hong Kong racing industry with 78 individual winners of 109 races prepared at Conghua prior to winning.

“Conghua has far exceeded our expectation,” Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
“Conghua is not only now a training centre, but it is also a functioning racecourse. Our first Exhibition Raceday there in March was extremely important in establishing Conghua’s importance not just for us but also for the Greater Bay Area development.

“For the future growth of Hong Kong racing, Conghua is very important. Opening up a facility is one thing but filling it with life and getting acceptance from trainers and owners for such a huge new project is something we knew would be very challenging. This project gives us plenty of opportunities and we have to thank our owners and trainers for making this vision come true and embracing it.”

Trainer Casper Fownes, who had a winning treble on Sunday, underscored the importance of the new training centre. Two of his winners Have Fun Together and Formula Galore have both benefitted from the facilities at Conghua Racecourse.

“Conghua, seriously, now it is showing: it is doing its job really well, it is freshening up horses, it is getting horses moving and the tracks are good there,” Fownes said.

As well as awards presented to Size, Purton and Ho, Hong Kong’s iconic 13-time champion jockey Douglas Whyte became only the third person to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. The former jockey is Hong Kong’s newest trainer and will officially commence his second career on Monday, 15 July.

Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges said: “Given our pursuit of world class excellence, it is therefore fitting that we presented a world-class jockey like Douglas Whyte with a Lifetime Achievement Award today. We look forward to seeing how Douglas progresses as a trainer next season.”

The first meeting of the 2019/20 Hong Kong season is at Sha Tin on September 1st, 2019.