Skip to main content

Spectators look on at Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong, which is managed by the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Picture: Lo Chun Kit/Getty Images

The Citizen Horse racing correspondent

One of the world’s major racing centres has thrown its weight behind KZN racing operator Gold Circle

The significance of the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s sponsorship of the Gold Cup race meeting at Greyville at the end of July shouldn’t be underestimated.

Full details of the financial injection into South African racing by the Chinese benefactor have yet to be announced. But the prestige of the linkage and the clear moral support is massive.

The KwaZulu-Natal provincial government has been busy white-anting racing with its plans to purloin a big chunk of the game’s operational revenue. Therefore, a helping hand from one of the world’s richest racing regions is most welcome. KZN racing operator Gold Circle and its CEO Michel Nairac must be congratulated on a coup.

Hong Kong is the fifth biggest racing jurisdiction in the world. It has an estimated annual value of HK$7-billion (about R170-billion).

“There has always been a strong connection between the Hong Kong and South African racing industries, particularly when it comes to participants. So it is exciting to collaborate with them,” said Michael Fitzsimons, executive director of wagering for the HKJC.

The HKJC has a monopoly licence to run racing in the enclave. And it returns the favour by being the biggest charity funder in the region. The R6.6-billion (R16-billion) that it handed to 292 local community causes in 2021 put it in the world’s top 10 charity funders.
The Gold Circle-HKJC relationship has been cemented over the past two years with a number of World Pool events. These see punters around the world watching a TV “simulcast”. And they bet into giant “comingled” pools on local races – thanks to sophisticated Hong Kong digital technology.

“Gold Circle have been wonderful supporters of World Pool and they recognise the benefits of having a robust pari-mutuel offering,” said Fitzsimons.

“And Hong Kong customers are quite fond of the product as well. In fact, the 2022 Gold Cup meeting produced record turnover in Hong Kong for a simulcast meeting of HK$394.7-million.”

In his statement, Nairac said: “We are excited to launch the first HKJC World Pool-sponsored race day worldwide.”

The Grade 3 3200m World Pool Gold Cup, South Africa’s premier marathon horse race, is still accorded a stake of just R1-million. But the foreign largesse has been spread across the race card. Many races on the
programme have shed their old names for a more Asian flavour.

The HKJC brand is reserved for the prestigious Grade 1 1800m Champions Cup. This promises to be a hotly contested affair offering enticing fare for foreign punters.

One of the renamed races is the Grade 1 Douglas Whyte Thekwini Stakes, which honours the great South African jockey, a native of Durban. He won 13 championships in Hong Kong and is now a prominent trainer in that city.

One thing that might put off millions of watchers and bettors around the world is the possibility of a government load shedding fiasco of the sort that short the recent Hollywoodbets Durban July meeting.

With 10 races scheduled, it was likely that one or two would be run under floodlights. However, Gold Circle could opt to play it safe and start the meeting a bit earlier than usual.