Standing on one of the richest pieces of real estate in the world, the Happy Valley racecourse in Hong Kong is a unique sporting centre.
Standing on one of the richest pieces of real estate in the world, the Happy Valley racecourse in Hong Kong is a unique sporting centre. The track, owned and operated by the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, is virtually in the heart of the city, surrounded by the soaring skyscrapers that dominate the Crown Colony's skyline.
The vast green expanse of the track area can survive in land-hungry Hong Kong because of two unique situations -- the prestige of racing and the almost compulsive attitude the Chinese have towards gambling.
One indication of the horse racing holds is the intense demand for ownership. Because so many people in such a small area went to have a thoroughbred, the Jockey Club strictly controls the importation and sale of the horses. Only five hundred horses are owned in the colony with an additional hundred imported and sold each year. The horses -- one, two and three year-olds imported from Australia -- are sold on a lottery basis to members of the Jockey Club for a fee of 15,000 Hong Kong dollars (1,260 pounds sterling).
Each Saturday during the racing season 400,000 people pack the stands and enclosures at the Happy Valley course. The batting is so fast and heavy, that in just one day about two million pounds changes hands.
The pawn shops nearby are said to do a thriving business as punters search for that extra dollar to put on the races. Last year an estimated 50.5 million Hong Kong dollars (about 4 million pounds sterling) was divided between the Hong Kong Government and Jockey Club from the fifteen per cent duty on betting.
While the Happy Valley racecourse has become a tradition since it was built in 1845, plans are currently underway to build another race track in Shatin in the rural area near the Chinese border. The new track would have all the facilities the Happy Valley course lacks -- adequate training and stable areas for the horses, and facilities for Hong Kong's fifty jockeys.
Despite the new course, there are no plans to dear down the Happy Valley track, even though it sits on some of the most valuable land in the world.
SYNOPSIS: In the centre of Hong Kong is one of the most unique sporting facilities in the world -- the Happy Valley racecourse. The course is on some of the most valuable land in the world and survives in land-hungry Hong Kong because of the tremendous prestige racing has here, and the fanaticism of its gamblers. But even the horses must brave the traffic to get to their stables.
The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club owns the racecourse and operates all aspects of racing in the Crown Colony.
Every Saturday during the racing season, a security van delivers money to cover the day's bets. Two million pounds change hands during any day's races.
Only five hundred horses race in Hong Kong. The number is strictly controlled by the Jockey Club, with only a hundred new horses imported and sold each year. The thoroughbreds are bought from Australia and sold on a lottery basis to members of the Jockey Club.
The racing season is long, running from October until May. Each race day brings about four-hundred thousand people flooding into the stands and enclosures at the Happy Valley course. Since most people come to bet, attention is riveted on the Tots board as the odds are displayed.
Horses have been pounding down the turf on the Happy Valley course for more than a hundred and twenty-five years. And in those years, Hong Kong has flourished around it -- eventually surrounding the filled in swamp land with towering buildings.
There are plans currently underway to build a second racecourse near the Chinese border, to help satisfy Hong Kong's fascination with horse racing ... and betting.
It seems hardly a coincidence that Hong Kong's pawn shop district is just a short walk from the betting stalls at the racecourse.
Racing in Hong Kong is a strong tradition and it is appropriate that it is carried out on some of the most valuable land in the world.