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Hong Kong Jockey Club unveils major investment to stage meetings in China

An aerial view of Conghua racecourse
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Four meetings a year could take place in mainland China from as early as March 2025 with the Hong Kong Jockey Club unveiling a HK$4 billion investment strategy to make the long-term ambition a reality.

The organisation signed an agreement with the Guangzhou Municipal Government on Saturday to build a new grandstand that can host 8,500 racegoers and upgrade facilities at Conghua racecourse and training base – roughly 200km north of Hong Kong.

Initially race meetings will be held four times a season, starting in March-April 2025, as the HKJC looks to grow the sport in mainland China, where gambling remains illegal.

The HKJC spent HK$3.7 billion (£337m/€392m) creating the Conghua facility, which opened in 2018, and the further investment comes after Beijing released a five-year blueprint in October designed to promote horseracing in China.

An international equine quarantine facility will also be developed, raising the long-term possibility of one of the sport's most powerful jurisdictions setting up its own horse breeding industry. 

Conghua racecourse: opened in 2018

Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges told the South China Morning Post: “This is part of the Greater Bay Area development – we have the policy endorsement and we have the surety of government-to-government dialogue if this strategic development would run into issues. That gives us confidence to make such a significant investment and plan our future strategy.

“The grandstand, the additional stables will be in the vicinity of HK$4 billion in the first stage. Conghua is not like Sha Tin, so what we want to build is a grandstand with a capacity to accommodate around 8,000 – 8,500 customers.

“It is likely that we will start first with four [race meetings a season] and then we can build it up to eight and potentially beyond, but it will be a gradual development and it has to fit into how we expand the horse population and how other developments in China go.

“It’s a long-term strategic positioning and our board and I are extremely excited about it.”

Conghua hosted an exhibition five-race card in March 2019 with 3,000 fans on course, no betting and races were beamed back into Hong Kong on a 15-minute delay. However, the social unrest in Hong Kong and coronavirus pandemic combined to delay a second meeting at the venue.

Conghua hosted an exhibition raceday in March 2019

Gambling remains a contentious issue and Engelbrecht-Bresges added that while it is possible punters in Hong Kong could be able to bet on the meetings from Conghua in the future, it is unlikely to happen initially.

“The question of betting is a different ball game,” he said. “In the future it could be a simulcast model like Dubai, that might be an option, but it is not something we can speculate on.

“First, we have to demonstrate that it’s a world-class sport, it is run with the highest integrity and it creates value for the region. What happens in five, ten or 20 years, no one can foresee.

“For us, the clear focus is on the implementation of a leisure entertainment, high-class sport, which complements what we do in Hong Kong. That will help us upgrade the quality of the sport and that is the main business justification.

“If it ever comes to wagering – that is something which nobody could predict and cannot be the basis of what one does – I think that would be subject to even more intense discussions with Guangzhou and Guangdong.”

Engelbrecht-Bresges added the investment in China would not come at the expense of investing in Hong Kong: “This doesn’t mean that we abandon Hong Kong. It is complementary, it is not a competition.

"We will continue to invest massively in Hong Kong. We are optimistic it will give longer-term sustainability and prosperity to Hong Kong racing.”

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The question of betting is a different ball game. In the future it could be a simulcast model like Dubai, that might be an option
E.W. Terms