Real leader stays the course to win

Editorial | Mary Ma 17 Jul 2020

It's been an incredible season for the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Through thick and thin, it's probably the world's only jockey club to finish the racing season so successfully - with its third-highest turnover ever.

Chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges yesterday announced betting turnover of HK$121.6 billion after the finale at Happy Valley on Wednesday evening.

Incredibly, despite a 60 percent slump in attendance, that was just 2.6 percent less than the record set in 2018-19.

No wonder Hongkongers are well known for their love of horse racing - so much so that it was one of the three things specifically cited by late Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping when he promised that Hongkongers could keep their way of life for 50 years. As he memorably put it: "Horses will still run, stocks will still sizzle, dancers will still dance."

While stocks were still sizzling recently with Beijing's immense support after "dancers" stumbled amid pandemic restrictions, horses carried on running - albeit without the usual spectators at the course. Nonetheless, improved technology allowed HKJC to overcome the hurdle to stream events live to thousands of homes.

Engelbrecht-Bresges deserves the credit.

Threatened by the pandemic, the German national created a "bubble" to keep trainers, jockeys and key staff safe within it. He was absolutely correct to note the danger of just one single infection within the bubble turning the whole season upside down.

A story had been circulating in the local racing circle. It was said that board members of the club were so worried about the pandemic and not sure whether or not the rest of the season should be cancelled. Engelbrecht-Bresges insisted to press on with the events.

Following a successful finale on Wednesday, he can well breathe a sigh of relief.

The successful season had nothing to do with luck but, rather, a vision and strategy.

If luck were the only factor to make a difference, everybody here could have said with confidence that it was the only thing that the city lacked over the past year.

First, there was the social unrest, during which betting centers had to be closed occasionally. And a race meeting nearly had to be shelved following protests threatened over the participation of a horse co-owned by controversial pro-Beijing legislator Junius Ho Kwan-yiu.

In January, fears began mounting over a "mysterious" virus raging in Wuhan and other parts of the mainland. Later, the virus officially became known as Covid-19 and is still causing havoc today.

For the first time in the jockey club's history, race events were held effectively behind virtual closed doors that were open only to a very small number of people.

It was meant to keep key players safe within the bubble - and it set an example for the international racing fraternity, which could have achieved similar results by following suit. As said, it is remarkable that, although attendance slumped, the turnover was among the highest on record.

It is most likely that the pandemic will still be around when the next season opens in September.

I am sure Engelbrecht-Bresges will keep up the excellent work.

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