Mr. Andrew Harding, Executive Director, Racing, of the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC), examined developments in racing on the Chinese mainland, in particular the HKJC’s Conghua Racecourse project.
Conghua, in China's Guangdong province, is approximately a two-hour drive north from Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong. It is the first world-class thoroughbred training facility in the Mainland and has “allowed Hong Kong’s world-class racing product to be seen in the Mainland for the first time,” according to Mr. Harding. He also announced that the ARF’s Executive Council was considering a proposal to host a special China-focused conference at Conghua Racecourse later this year.
“We will look at the potential to bring racing experts, officials and related industry participants from around the world to Conghua in October this year, with the conference anchored to a world-class exhibition race meeting as a live demonstration of our equine centre of excellence," he said. “The conference would consider many of the aspects that have been raised today, as well as shaping the future direction of the horse industry on the Mainland.”
Mr. Harding also explained the current horse sports’ landscape in China, including government bodies like the Chinese Equestrian Association (CEA) and the Chinese Horse Industry Association (CHIA) and private entities like the Inner Mongolia-based Rider, and Yulong, located in Shanxi.
“These companies have started to demonstrate end-to-end capabilities, from import and breeding to large-scale race organisation of a fairly high standard,” Mr. Harding said. “Many of these companies are funded by other non-equine businesses, with no legalised wagering on Flat racing in China”.
“The policy of the Mainland Government has changed in recent years and it is now, overall, very supportive of horse sports. Nanjing and Hainan are expected to see further racing and equine-related developments in the coming years. We are seeing Flat racing continue to grow.”
That said, there are barriers to further growth in China, according to Mr. Harding: “The norms of other countries are not organised in the Mainland and these building blocks are key to developing racing in China. It is plainly essential that there needs to be central registration of horses plus collection of results and they need world-class racing rules and regulatory functions. There is also a need for vocational training to educate future racing personnel, while there are significant issues with veterinary science and medication.”
Miho Training Centre, roughly 70 kilometres from Tokyo in Ibaraki Prefecture, is considered a hallmark of Japan’s prosperous racing industry, with the four-decade-old facility recently undergoing a number of upgrades.
“Japanese horses are not trained at our racecourses,” said Mr. Tomoyuki Takamatsu, Deputy General Manager of Miho Training Centre, Japan Racing Association. “All JRA horses are trained at either of Miho and Ritto. A decision was made in the 1960s that we needed to move our horses away from our racecourses as the JRA set a goal to develop world-class horses capable of performing on the global stage.
“Recently, we have changed the woodchip course, extending it from 1600m to 2000m and introducing automatic timing. We have also extended the slope of our uphill course, we’ve built new stables and we are in the process of building a new biomass-fired power plant.”
New Zealand is renowned for its thoroughbred heritage, particularly from a breeding standpoint, but its industry has faced a challenging period in recent years, according to Mr. Bernard Saundry, Chief Executive Officer of New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing.
“Racing’s place on the New Zealand sporting landscape is under threat; we are facing challenges that we had not even contemplated 20 years ago,” he said. “After decades of virtually uninterrupted success and growth, our business has been assailed by disruptors on all sides. Societal changes, both in terms of younger generations and a more urban population, and an evolving digital and media landscape have put our wagering and business models under pressure.”
In 2018, New Zealand’s Racing Minister – and Deputy Prime Minister – the Hon. Winston Peters appointed prominent Australian breeder and administrator Mr. John Messara to undertake a review. Mr Saundry read out the minster’s reaction: “Mr Messara’s review delivered a blunt appraisal. He concluded that the New Zealand racing industry is in a state of serious malaise and requires urgent reform. The review also warned that thoroughbred horse racing is at a tipping point of irreparable damage.”
Mr. Saundry said that the key pillars of the Messara review continue to be analysed and delivery is an ongoing process: “We are currently building a longer-term commercial model to modernise the land assets that can provide a future-proofed structure for thoroughbred racing in New Zealand. We are also growing engagement in racing by working with multiple media and digital platforms, bringing in world-class expertise to expand exposure for the sport, while we are looking to improve our training and education outcomes for our participants.
“Another aspect is providing our club network with the support they need to drive improved outcomes by way of attendance, community engagement and track and venue infrastructure. Finally, we are partnering with government and our participants to continue to improve our social licence in the community, particularly in the areas of integrity and equine welfare.”
One of the great success stories of the last decade has been Korea's emergence among the global racing scene. Dr. Seungho Ryu, the Korea Racing Authority's General Manager for the International Department, has become a familiar face on the world stage. He highlighted the recent achievements of their long-term racing strategy, including promotion to Part II of the Blue Book in 2016, as well as plans to build on racing’s tremendous growth.
“In recent times, Korea-trained horses have achieved ratings far above what they ever had before,” he said. “In 2019, Dolkong won the Curlin Handicap in Dubai and finished third in the G1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round Three, only a neck behind Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow. He was rated 110 and even ran in the World Cup itself. Then, last year’s Korea Sprint winner Blue Chipper went on to run third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and was rated 112.
“Unfortunately, while the Korea Cup and the Korea Sprint were initially awarded international Group 3 status for the first time last year, a diplomatic incident meant that we could not invite Japanese horses and that status was removed. However, we hope to get that rating back, with the Korean government introducing a KPI for Group race ratings as a measure of quality control in 2020. We are also working towards the opening of our first turf track in 2023.”
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