Hong Kong Jockey Club flexes muscles to become sales player


Hong Kong is renowned for its packed racecourses and massive betting turnover but now the Hong Kong Jockey Club is becoming a force to be reckoned with at the major global international yearling sales.

Whilst they are not trying to win a bidding war with the Sheikhs from Dubai or Qatar, they are improving the quality as part of the HKJC’s strategy of looking outwards, their senior international racing consultant Nick Columb told AFP.

“I was headhunted three years ago by Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges (the HKJC CEO),” said the 70-year-old Romania-born Australian, who gave AFP his first interview since he took up the post at the Tattersalls yearling sales in Newmarket.

“Actually I went to the lunch and never left the lunch!

“I’ve been luckily wandering around the world buying horses for the HKJC international auction (a gala dinner held two days before the Hong Kong Derby) to improve the quality of the horse we’re bringing into Hong Kong and the auction is part of that process.

“We spend the first part of the year in the southern hemisphere, and the northern hemisphere (for) the second part of the year.”

Columb, who was responsible as either owner or breeder for 17 Group One winners when he was based in Australia, said they had to take into account other cost factors when they were buying the yearlings.

“We have to be mindful we’re buying them as yearlings and keeping them (in New Zealand and England) for 18 months and then reselling them so we have to leave enough room for us to cover the costs by the time we resell them,” said Columb, who is ably assisted by former English national hunt jockey Mark Richards.

“So we are not paying or competing at top of the market million euro or pound level, we’re down around tops the 3-400 thousand euro/pound mark.

“We’re buying very nice horses, money doesn’t mean you’re buying a champion by the way.

“We are buying to a level of excellence we define to be important.

“So far results have been excellent so we don’t believe we need to be paying millions for the champions.”

Columb has signed for around 40 yearlings so far this year — paying out a top price of 450,000 euros ($496,000) — and the HKJC contribution to the coffers of both vendors and auction houses is readily acknowledged by Edmond Mahony, chairman of Tattersalls.

“The Hong Kong Jockey Club are purchasing here for their sale (the gala Derby), and certainly are prepared to go into six figures for the horses they are looking for,” he told AFP.

“So they are a very important bit of the market here.”

– ‘Tremendous year’ –

Columb, who fled with his parents in 1946 from Romania in a secret compartment in a train after his family had paid to have his father released by the Soviets from prison, has been delighted with the results of the first batch of yearlings, who are now racing as three-year-olds.

“This year has been tremendous three have raced and all have won,” said Columb.

“One called Pakistan Star (bought in Deauville yearling sales in 2014) is already regarded as a global Youtube phenomenon having won both of his races coming from a long way back. And the other one, Jing Jing Win (bought by their first mainland China purchaser) was the most expensive horse in the auction this year ($1.5 million) won his first race by four lengths.”

Columb, who was chairman of the Australian Thoroughbred Breeders Association for 20 years, said the chances of seeing one of his purchases flying the flag abroad was not on the cards.

“Hong Kong has specific requirements in terms of climactic and track conditions. We buy horses to suit Hong Kong not necessarily to suit the rest of the world.”

© 2016 AFP

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