Racing falls victim: Happy Valley canceled on protest fears

Top News | Jane Cheung 19 Sep 2019

In a rare move, the Hong Kong Jockey Club pulled the plug on last night’s race meeting after protesters threatened to demonstrate in the Happy Valley racecourse to spook controversial legislator Junius Ho Kwan-yiu and his horse.

It was the first time in 30 years that Hong Kong's favorite past-time was canceled due to protests.

And it jarred with Deng Xiaoping's famous line that “horse racing and dancing will go on” in Hong Kong after the 1997 handover.

Ho's horse, Hong Kong Bet -- co-owned with Wilson Ho Wai-shing and Bruce Lee Sing-keung -- was to run in the first race at 7.15 pm.

And protesters saw a chance to heckle the pro-establishment solicitor-legislator.

The club had planned to suspend racing if hundreds of protesters turned up, but in the end it decided to ax the eight-event meeting six hours before the start.

That was due to an “imminent threat to the safety of racegoers, jockeys and employees and the welfare of racehorses,” the club said in a statement.

The cancellation decision was made after "a thorough risk assessment of the race meeting," a spokesman said, mentioning "the very real threat of a disturbance or possible violence at Happy Valley Racecourse and uncertainty regarding transportation in and around Happy Valley and Causeway Bay."

Protesters had chatted online about a plan to go to the racecourse and protest against Ho, who they believed had a hand in organizing a large-scale assault by white-shirted men on pro-democracy protesters and passengers at Yuen Long MTR Station on July 21.

Ho has since come in for heavy criticism, with a petition of over 2,000 signatures asking the Jockey Club to cancel his membership and force his horse to retire.

The club did not act against Ho, though sources claimed a management member of the club called Ho in the countdown to last night's meeting and asked him to withdraw his horse for security reasons, and Ho refused. That prompted the club to cancel the meeting.

Ho, however, denied the club contacted him.

What it did do, he said, was phone co-owner Wilson Ho yesterday morning to express concern about the meeting. But there was no request to pull Hong Kong Bet from the meeting.

“The same as with all Hong Kong racing fans, residents and world-wide racing circles we were astonished by the announcement,” he said of the cancellation.

And he feared Hong Kong's international image would suffer.

Ho had said earlier during a televised interview that he would not kneel before evil and asked the club to have confidence in the rule of law. He also asked: "Should we break our normal routine not knowing if such threats are true or not?”

Hugo Hui Kwan-wah, the owner of horses named My Darling and My Dear, said he understood why the club would cancel races but he could not agree with the decision.

Horse racing "represents Hong Kong's prosperity, stability and freedom,” he said, and the government and the club must safeguard events.

Racing commentator Fong Chun-fai said he was speechless at the club's decision, adding that "all of my efforts are wasted now” in relation to his selections. “I hope the club will think of a solution in case of similar incidents in the future.”

Punters were plain angry. 

One named Cheung said he invested time and money in buying a racing booklet and newspapers and spent two days picking potential winners.

“I would have won several hundred thousand dollars from the races," he reckoned. "What a pity, what a pity."

Another punter, Wong, said he was upset, but "I don't blame the protesters." Ho should accept he has an image problem "and avoid taking part in races during this sensitive period," he added.

Although the club can reschedule the meeting it was likely to have missed out on some HK$1.1 billion in betting turnover.

The last time the club cancelled a meeting over a protests was in January 1984 when a taxi drivers' demonstration was being held.

But the last cancellation was on September 16 last year when typhoon No 10 Mangkhut hit.

The club will make refunds to punters. People who placed cash bets will be refunded by presenting tickets at any Jockey Club branch within 60 days while telebet wagers will be refunded directly to accounts.

Another big cancellation announced yesterday was that the fireworks display on October 1 National Day is off.

The government said the decision was reached “in view of the latest situation and having regard to public safety.”

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

More reports: Pages 4 & 10; Editorial: Page 8

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