The Hong Kong horse racing scene has been plunged into chaos a month before its biggest event of the year. Two assistant trainers and four stable staff are among 21 people arrested in an anti-corruption drive launched by the territory’s Independent Commission Against Corruption. They are accused of passing on inside information to help bettors profit, sparking a scandal that has rocked the sport with just a month left until the Hong Kong International Races.
The Hong Kong Cup is the world’s richest 2000m turf race and the Hong Kong Mile is its richest race over that distance. It also features the Hong Kong Vase and the Hong Kong Sprint, which are also among the world’s richest and most prestigious races. The meeting typically attracts many of the finest runners from across the globe as they compete for fame and fortune on the big stage. Hundreds of millions of dollars change hands at the best sportsbooks in the business, and the event is televised around the world.
It is always a triumphant celebration of racing in Hong Kong, but this week’s scandal threatens to overshadow the entire event. The investigation has centred on a syndicate at a property in Tsuen Wan, but the ICAC cannot comment while enquiries are ongoing. Six Hong Kong Jockey Club have been arrested, along with 15 outsiders. “The ICAC and the HKJC do not tolerate any corrupt activities,” it said in a statement. “The two organisations will continue to liaise and cooperate closely to combat-related crimes and keep horse racing in Hong Kong clean. Upholding uncompromising integrity has always been the core value of the club.”
It always takes a hard line on anyone that breaks the rules, and Hong Kong has been known to hand out prison sentences and heavy fines for corruption. Yet it now has some work to do on promoting its racing as a bastion of clean competition as they big day approaches. This year’s Hong Kong International Races event takes place on Sunday, December 8, at the famous Sha Tin racecourse.
Last year Glorious Forever’s Victory in the Hong Kong Cup wrapped up the first ever Hong Kong clean sweep at the Hong Kong International Races. A raucous crowd of 96,388 watched on as Exultant clinched the Hong Kong Vase, Beauty Generation delivered a sensational performance to win the Hong Kong Mile, stablemate Mr Stunning romped to victory in the Hong Kong Sprint – delivering a brilliant double for Frankie Lor – before Glorious Forever’s triumph.
“This is a dream result and it is extremely satisfying to see the depth and quality of Hong Kong horses rising to the fore to win four Group 1 races against top-class overseas challengers,” said HKJC chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges.
“It is an amazing achievement and I will stress again that we have only 0.7% of the world’s horse population here in Hong Kong.”
All four races carried record prize purses, worth a total of HK$93 million (US$11.9 million), and the prize pools have continued to spiral with each passing year. This event is now widely regarded as the year-end extravaganza for the global horse racing scene and it attracts the best runners from Japan, Britain, France, Ireland, Australia and Singapore. Legends such as Sir Michael Stoute, Aidan O’Brien and Andre Fabre are regulars at the Hong Kong International Races, and the quality of horses is extremely high.
Now the HKJC will have to ramp up its PR drive to deflect attention away from the ICAC raids and remind everyone that there is world-class racing looming large on the horizon. Its cause is helped by the calibre of runners that have been nominated for the four big races. Beauty Generation is odds-on to defend the Hong Kong Mile, but faces stern competition from big names like Waikuku, Indy Champ and Normcore. Mr Stunning will be back to defend the Hong Kong Sprint, but all eyes will be on the talented duo of Aethero and Beat The Clock too. Exultant leads the betting for the Vase, but the likes of True Self, Loves Only You and Avilius are not to be discounted. Then it will be fascinating to see if the Japanese Horse of the Year, Almond Eye, can follow up her Dubai Turf victory by claiming the Hong Kong Cup.