Hong Kong Jockey Club eye mainland China for new blood


The Chinese government may not be interested in developing horse racing but the Hong Kong Jockey Club is keen to cultivate more owners from mainland China, their Senior International Racing Consultant told AFP.

Nick Columb, who was chairman of the Australian Thoroughbred Breeders Association for 20 years, added while it may not happen in his lifetime — he is 70 — if there were to be racing in mainland China then the HKJC would be the logical choice to run it.

However, from small acorns do grow oaks and to start with the HKJC have focussed their efforts on setting their sights on educating mainland Chinese citizens in understanding the highly complex world of horse racing.

“China has to become part of what we (the HKJC) are trying to do in looking outwards,” Columb told AFP in his first interview since he took up the role three years ago.

“We have set up the Beijing clubhouse which is a luxury hotel facility with fine dining with 1000 members.

“They are being slowly educated to the ways of racing, what horses, trainers and jockeys do. What are weights and barriers.

“As the people learn they become more and more involved in the Hong Kong racing scene.”

Columb, who was speaking at the Tattersalls Bloodstock Yearling Sales at Newmarket, said Hong Kong was a unique racing model.

“Hong Kong is significantly different from other models because you must be a member to race a horse,” he said.

“Once you are a member you can apply for a permit to buy a horse that comes through a lottery — the ballot – every June and once you get a permit you can go and buy a horse.

“For a Beijing member first they they have to learn a bit about racing, develop an interest and come down to Hong Kong to race a little bit with us, become a member of the HKJC and if they have enough of an interest they can apply for a permit buy a horse and race.”

That tactic has already borne fruit as the most expensive horse sold at the HKJC auction this year (when they are three-year-olds having been bought as yearlings abroad and then kept in England and New Zealand till they reach three) Jing Jing Win is owned by a mainland Chinese owner and won in impressive fashion on its only start.

Columb, born in Romania but who arrived in Australia aged four after his family paid for his father to be released from Soviet captivity in their homeland and they escaped in a hidden compartment in a train, said the HKJC were prepared should China embrace racing.

“Expansion in the future will be into China,” he said.

“Should that happen we are building the training centre (Conghua in Guandong in mainland China) be ready to launch from.

“As a government China really per se is not interested in developing racing.

“The HKJC is really the instrument, the only instrument, to run racing in China so it would follow on logically the HKJC, maybe not in my lifetime, would be the betting and racing arm in mainland China should that develop but I don’t think that will happen in the next few years.”

Columb, who either owned or bred 17 Group One winners while he was involved in Australian racing, said for him it is ‘utopia’ to be involved in Hong Kong racing.

“I would say the Hong Kong racing model is the best in the world, a jewel in the middle of Asia, and I’ve raced everywhere,” he said.

“It is a race club that is enveloped in the middle of a community and then turns itself inside out to benefit that community significantly in the taxes paid from betting and in contributions to charities, schools, parks and all other parts of life (HKJC community arm paid out HK$3bn last year).

“The fact we pay a lot of tax to the Hong Kong government (HK$20billion last year) means people from Hong Kong are paying 15 percent less tax.”

© 2016 AFP

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