Conghua race day unveils a new era for China horse racing

5 min read

By Emily Chan

The Hong Kong Jockey Club hosted its first ever raceday at the new Conghua Racecourse in Mainland China on Saturday. The historic Exhibition Raceday was conducted in collaboration with the Conghua District Government and was a significant day for Hong Kong racing as it is the first time in the Club’s 135-year history where Hong Kong horses are raced competitively on the Mainland.

Apart from Hong Kong-based horses, the five races on the day featured Hong Kong-based trainers and jockeys and followed Hong Kong’s rule of racing. Everything in the HK$3.7 billion Conghua facility is a replica of a race day in Hong Kong, from the design of the parade ring, the racetracks, the broadcasting centre to how the raceday is being held – everything mimics that of Hong Kong except no betting – which is banned in Mainland China.

Everything at the Conghua facility has been modelled off a race-day in Hong Kong

Races were shown in Hong Kong on a 15-minute delay. The event attracted a crowd of close to 3000 people where a majority of them were tourists from other provinces in China. One vision of the Conghua Racecourse is to make contributions to the tourism development of the Conghua District which is famous for its natural hot springs resorts and lychee farms. Tickets for the event started from RMB 99 (USD 15) and were sold out in two weeks.

A new era

The first race, the 1200m Hong Kong Jockey Club Trophy, was won by Nordic Warrior (Ire) (Dutch Art{GB}), with Trainer Richard Gibson and Jockey Matthew Chadwick producing this historic first race win at Conghua Racecourse, marking the start of a new era for horse racing in the Greater Bay Area.

“Absolutely this is a very big buzz and big career moment to win the first race here in Conghua." - Trainer Richard Gibson

“Absolutely this is a very big buzz and big career moment to win the first race here in Conghua and Matthew gave the horse a wonderful ride and we are delighted,” said Richard Gibson after the race. “From the moment this race came on our radar we targeted this horse for the race. We expected the pace to be very strong, we know our good horse is a finisher and Matthew gave him a wonderfully cool, calculated ride.”

“It couldn’t have gone better, it was basically a text book ride and he was too good on the day. It’s the first time up here for a meeting like this and I’m very happy to be part of it,” Chadwick said.

“I did say when I got the job in Hong Kong I wanted to be the first winner in Conghua." - Richard Gibson

“I did say when I got the job in Hong Kong I wanted to be the first winner in Conghua. If you look back at the press conference, I said that in quite a loud voice. I’m looking forward to training here, our horses are doing great here and it’s great to be part of history today and to get the Cup from (HKSAR Chief Executive) Mrs Carrie Lam is obviously an extra privilege for us as well,” Gibson said.

Dual trainers

Gibson is not the only trainer on the day who is looking to have access for their horses to be trained in both Conghua and Sha Tin. First season trainer Jimmy Ting won race two, the 1800m Greater Bay Area Cup, with Dragon Warrior (Haradasun) ridden by Chad Schofield. Ting has produced an amazing record of winning with his first runners at Conghua, Sha Tin and Happy Valley in a debut season.

“I am very happy. I don’t really know how to say about winning the first time at each track but I am happy,” Ting said. “And if later I set up a stable here in Conghua, today’s race day is a good experience for me.”

Conghua racecourse was officially opened on August 28, 2018 and nine trainers in Hong Kong including the legendary John Moore are now training horses out of both Conghua and Hong Kong. The Club is looking to add another 4 trainers to set up dual-site stables by July this year.

"It’s a fantastic training complex and I’ll be fully utilising it." - Trainer John Moore

The Conghua Training Centre is the only internationally-recognized Equine Disease Free Zone in Mainland China and maintains strict biosecurity measures, enabling horses in Conghua and Sha Tin to be in the same health condition. Horses were ferried from Hong Kong to Conghua for the raceday in specially designed horse floats at least 48 hours before the inaugural event.

“The facilities are second to none here at Conghua. I know it’s a ways from Hong Kong but I've had horses here for quite a while now and I have no complaints whatsoever. It’s a fantastic training complex and I’ll be fully utilising it,” said Moore. Moore won the 1200m Race 4 Guangzhou-Hong Kong Cup with The Createth ridden by Silvestre de Sousa.

The Conghua facility

The Exhibition Race Day was attended by government officials from Beijing, Guangdong and Hong Kong. “The next step for us is definitely a review and I can see that we have now in a way have comfort to host another race meeting next year. We will take everything step by step and have to be very mindful it cannot be perceived as gambling. It is about the sport and that it is entertainment of course,” said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the Chief Executive Officer of the Club. “Conghua is a complement to Hong Kong, not a substitution.”