Every race meeting, we have around 800,000 to 900,000 people searching for information on our website, and a lot of them spend three or four hours in this mind-game exercise.
People have a gaming propensity, so we provide the information which we think is relevant to them and attractive to them, so they engage with our game.
Is owning racehorses popular in Hong Kong?
Horse ownership is extremely prestigious here. We have more people who want to have a horse than can have a horse. Every year, we can bring in 350 to 400 horses, but we have 1,200 to 1,300 applications for a horse. We did introduce a special replacement permit where you don’t have to go through the normal process. If you retire a horse and you bring in a horse of at least Group 3 quality, you can do this at any time. We have driven the quality up.
Hong Kong is unique in that it has no breeding program, so how do you recruit and care for racehorses?
It’s a huge education exercise with owners about what types of horses fit our program. The other thing we look at is equine welfare. We have a very stringent vet protocol. We provide owners with veterinary information before they bring in a horse, and also if you want to own a horse you have to pay 80,000 Hong Kong dollars, soon to be 90,000, into a retirement fund. We stress from the import of the horse that you as the owner are responsible.
Why does Hong Kong allow owners to change a horse’s name, when many jurisdictions do not?
A lot of it has to do with luck, and sometimes you have names which are very difficult to pronounce for the Chinese. Changing a horse’s name is, from a traceability standpoint, a bit of an issue. But as long as they are geldings, the impact is not as much. A lot of times, owners want their horses’ names to relate to each other. We have families that always include a certain word, like Beauty or Dragon. I think it will become more of an issue, but at the moment there is a very strong expression from our owners to be able to rename their horses.
Racehorses have been trained exclusively at Sha Tin, but with Conghua Racecourse opening this year in mainland China, how has it changed things?
I think this was one of the boldest projects we have ever done. We established the first disease-free zone in China. There’s a corridor between Hong Kong and this training center where the horses can move freely back and forth. We could not get more land in Hong Kong, so we could not expand here. Conghua gives us the opportunity to increase the horse population. Sha Tin will always be the center, but it gives us the next stage of development.