Introduction to the business sessions of the 38th Asian Racing Conference

Mr. Andrew Harding, Asian Racing Federation (ARF) Secretary General, and Executive Director, Racing, the Hong Kong Jockey Club, on behalf of Mr.Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, ARF Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer, the Hong Kong Jockey Club, delivered the opening address of the business sessions of the 38th Asian Racing Conference (ARC) on Wednesday morning.

Mr. Harding began by highlighting some of the ARF’s achievements since the previous ARC was held in Korea in 2018. The Seoul conference focused on critical challenges to racing such as defining and developing the global brand of racing, illegal wagering, gene doping and animal welfare. Though these challenges are still ongoing, notable progress has been made.

“While the development of a truly global brand of racing is a work in progress, there are some promising green shoots. World Horse Racing (WHR) has been launched by an alliance of iconic global racing festivals to celebrate the sport of horse racing and the inspirational characters who make it happen through the distribution of short form video and social media content in order to build a broad audience at scale across all the key social media channels. WHR’s betting-free, high production value content is engaging a large, growing global audience of high income, 25–45-year-old horse racing fans.

“Excellent work has been done by the ARF’s Anti-Illegal Betting Taskforce including the staging of a special workshop in Melbourne attended by more than 45 experts from the racing industry, governments and law enforcement agencies and the publication of the White Paper ‘Illegal Betting in an Asian Context’.

“In relation to gene doping, experts from ARF members have led major reforms to develop model rules to ban gene editing and genome editing. These reforms, which demonstrate racing’s front-foot approach to an emerging threat, were recently approved by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) for introduction in the International Agreement on Breeding, Racing and Wagering.

“And on equine welfare, we have witnessed significant developments in ARF member countries and elsewhere to enhance the protection of our equine athletes from expanded traceability regimes to developing aftercare programs.”

Looking forward to the three days, Mr. Harding reminded delegates that the conference theme of “Unlocking Potential” could not be more apt both for South Africa and for the sport of horse racing. Through 11 Plenary Sessions, involving almost 50 speakers, covering a broad spectrum of topics, the overriding focus is on unlocking racing’s potential, with a significant South African input.

Providing a brief overview of the first day’s proceedings, Mr. Harding pointed out that in an ever-changing world, technology is often the driving force. Hence it is important to explore the growth of international wagering and how digital technologies can enhance the experience of the racing customer.

The balance of the day looks at the demands of the modern racing fan, the importance and value of fan data plus the creation of new races to expand engagement. The initial day culminates with an insightful view into the challenges of producing the successful film Ride Like A Girl, which is about Michelle Payne winning the Melbourne Cup. Delegates will be treated to a special screening of the film at the end the day’s proceedings.

The second day features a strong focus on the integrity of racing. Mr. Harding explained: “Whilst racing has no peer when it comes to sophisticated approaches to integrity, we must continuously improve. This extends to the battle against illegal betting, which has been a key priority for the Asian Racing Federation for several years now. Our sport’s full potential can only be reached when our races are clean, and when our fans can be assured that we are doing everything possible to uphold the level playing field.”

The afternoon’s sessions will address the role racecourses can play in our communities as well as the challenges the sport faces in looking after its star athletes, both equine and human.

In the modern digital era where social media often plays a huge role in our daily lives, the issue of equine welfare has been highlighted and the topic takes centre stage on the final day of the conference. Mr. Harding reminded delegates: “We need to constantly consider the way our horses are cared for throughout their life. Social values towards animal welfare and animal rights are rapidly changing, and we must re-examine and justify the effectiveness of historical approaches towards ensuring equine welfare. Failure to meet community expectations in modern society as to how racehorses should be cared for could pose a direct threat to our sport’s sustainability. For racing to reach its full potential, we must act as guardians of our horses.

“The final day will also examine the critical relationship between government and racing authorities. From wagering to welfare, taxation to town planning, sponsorship to simulcasting, and from data protection to disciplinary systems, effective government engagements are key parts of the success of racing.”

The concluding session will be devoted to the exciting and momentous work that has been done towards free international movement of South African horses, together with an update on the way forward.