International interest strong on Gold Coast

6 min read
A myriad of headwinds is not stopping Asian investors getting involved in the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale.

China's economic downturn and uncertainty surrounding the quarantine situation at the Hong Kong Jockey Club's new mainland training centre won't stop Asian buyers being a force at the Gold Coast Magic Millions Sale.

With a tariff war looming between America and China, Hong Kong's usually robust housing market has taken a hit and the economy has slowed in the racing-mad jurisdiction.

Another concern for vendors is the ongoing stand off between the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Australian government over the quarantine status of the club's multimillion-dollar mainland training centre at Conghua, three hours north of Hong Kong near Guangzhou.

Horses can no longer travel directly from Hong Kong to Australia and must spend six months stationed in another country before re-entering.

"The Hong Kong owner isn't thinking about the quarantine situation, and they have plenty of aftercare options through the club for their horses." - Stallion Racing's David Raphael

The ban does not apply to horses travelling from Australia and that means Hong Kong's cashed-up owners will still make their presence felt in the sales ring, regardless of economic climate.

"They are only thinking about getting the horses there to Sha Tin," said David Raphael from Hong Kong-owned Stallion Racing. "The Hong Kong owner isn't thinking about the quarantine situation, and they have plenty of aftercare options through the club for their horses; they can retire it to the Jockey Club riding schools or to New Zealand."

Moore's positive outlook

Bloodstock agent George Moore, son of seven-time champion trainer John, was also busy inspecting lots on Monday and said Hong Kong's economic situation hadn't changed his plans.

"We have got the same budget we have every year at this sale, around $1.3 to $1.4 million," Moore said. "Our stable is doing better this season and the offers are flooding in to buy yearlings. When you are doing well, you are always going to have that client base flooding back to buy horses."

"Our stable is doing better this season and the offers are flooding in to buy yearlings." - Bloodstock agent, George Moore

The type of horses Moore is targeting has changed though and even though Hong Kong has no 2-year-old races and very few 3-year-old-only events, the shift is towards precocity.

George Moore (far right) is looking at more precocious types at this year's Magic Millions. Pictured with George, Pippa and Mark Chittick

"We are being asked by clients to buy more precocious, quicker 2-year-old types," Moore said. "In the past we have gone for more late maturing three-year-old types. Multiple clients have told us that they want more speed and that makes sense for us, out of this sale particularly. We have a lot of time to give young horses in Hong Kong but there is still a little bit of pressure to buy a horse for those shorter distance races."

Exchange rate provides affordability

Offsetting the economic downturn is the continued drop in the Australian dollar, meaning the Hong Kong dollar goes further.

"It just makes the horses cheaper," said Raphael. "You are paying less for the same horse you bought 12-months ago here."

With Australian prizemoney rising and owner permits at a premium, Hong Kong owners like Howard Liang, who was spotted inspecting lots with agent Marie Yoshida on Monday, are also looking to race horses in Australia.

Hong Kong owner Howard Liang, speaking with jockey Matthew Chadwick

"And why wouldn't they? The prizemoney levels here are incredible," said bloodstock agent Damian Yap. "It's not quite to Hong Kong levels, but it is very attractive and the training fees are so much lower than at Sha Tin."

"I don't think the economic situation worries the types of owners that come here." - Bloodstock agent, Damian Yap

With regards to the economic situation, Yap said it had yet to bite into the budgets of the wealthy.

"I don't think the economic situation worries the types of owners that come here, in Hong Kong the rich keep getting richer, and the Australian-bred horses are proven to be very successful in those conditions."

Yap is a former high-ranking official at the Hong Kong Jockey Club and is hopeful that the quarantine situation will be resolved soon.

"I would like to think so, and in my opinion the Conghua training centre's biosecurity measures are watertight. I think it will be just a matter of time before they work things out."

Hopes impasse can be resolved

Trainer Gary Moore was a seven-time champion jockey in Hong Kong and later a seven-time champion trainer in Macau. As such he has a strong Asian clientele.

Moore hopes the quarantine situation can be resolved so that horses can not only return to retire but even continue their racing careers, like top sprinters Redkirk Warrior (GB) (Notnowcato {GB}) or Call Me Handsome (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}).

George Moore hopes the quarantine issue can be resolved to allow horses like Redkirk Warrior to race in Hong Kong

"I think there is a good opening there, the prize money is great here in Australia and I hope that option to bring horses that are retired from Hong Kong is re-opened soon," he said.

Twelve months ago the Hong Kong Jockey Club caused a stir when it withdrew support for the Magic Millions in protest over the Australian government's horse import ban.

The Jockey Club returned to buy big at the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale and is back on the Gold Coast this week, with Hong Kong International Sales Executive Manager Mark Richards inspecting lots on Monday.

Yulong Investments' Zhang Yueshang is both a buyer and seller at this year's Gold Coast Sale

Chinese and Japanese buyers on Gold Coast

Of course it isn't just Hong Kong owners buying, with the mainland also an ever-increasing force.

Yulong Australia's Zhang Yuesheng will not only be buying at the sale but his operation is a vendor for the first time at Magic Millions, offering nine lots.

Japan will be represented by Australian Michael Tabart, who is one of the few non-Japanese nationals to obtain a JRA owners license and has started his own racing club, New World Racing.