Welcome to a new chapter in live racing coverage on Sky Sports Racing.
From January 1st, the only place to see live Hong Kong action is on Sky Sports Racing and attheraces.com will have all the information you need to get the most from it.
And so, by way of introduction to Tuesday’s first meeting of 2019, here are ten things that new fans and old need to know about how one of the most successful racing models on the planet.
1: Hong Kong concentrates on quality
There are just two racetracks in Hong Kong, namely Sha Tin and Happy Valley. Sha Tin, which has just celebrated its 40th birthday, generally stages a ten-race card on Sunday afternoons (early morning in Europe). Happy Valley’s colourful Wednesday night meetings consist of eight races starting at around 1pm GMT.
2: Key numbers are important
Two meetings a week add up to an 88-fixture season starting in early September and ending in mid-July. At present, there are just 24 full-time jockeys and 21 trainers active in Hong Kong. Riders have to book their own mounts without the assistance of agents, while trainers are allowed no more than 60 horses at any one time.
The vast majority of those horses are based at Sha Tin. However, the recent opening of the Hong Kong Jockey Club's new Conghua base in Mainland China – which stages an historic exhibition raceday without betting in March - will increase the 1200-strong horse appreciably in the next few years.
3: The cast list is global
The Jockey Club aims to maximise the appeal of HK racing by combining the best homegrown talent with star names from all around the world. The jockey roster includes riders from Australia, Brazil, France, Ireland, Mauritius, South Africa and Italy, while the trainers include three Aussies, two South Africans, an Englishman and a Kiwi.
4: Trainers often follow a certain pattern
Hong Kong is no different to other places in that trainers with the skill to get to the top often remain there for long periods. Veteran handlers John Moore, Tony Cruz and John Size have saddled around 4,000 winners between them and their influence in major races shows no sign of waning.
Frankie Lor is a former assistant to Moore and Size and looks poised to follow in their footsteps after making a flying start to his training career. Caspar Fownes is known as ‘King of the Valley’ for his exceptional record at the city track, while homegrown handler Me Tsui has a particularly good record on Sha Tin’s AW track.
5: Handicaps dominate the racing landscape
Hong Kong racing is based on providing punters with the most compelling betting puzzle possible. The Group-race programme is well established and thriving, but over 90% of races are handicaps, including many Pattern races.
There are a few races for unraced or very lightly-raced horses – known as Griffins – but even newcomers can start their career in handicaps and do so with a rating of 52 or 57 depending on whether they were foaled in the southern or northern hemisphere.
6: Market moves can be significant
Considering so many of the races are tricky handicaps, Hong Kong markets are very efficient at identifying the most likely winner. More than one in four races are won by the market leader but there are also valuable clues to be found by observing market moves for bigger priced runners.
Hong Kong pools can prove volatile in the minutes just before the race. Horses whose odds reduce by 20% see their number turn green on the Tote board. It takes a major move to reduce a price by 50% in Hong Kong’s huge pools. When that occurs, the number in question turns brown. By and large, being “brown lamped” generally signifies that the horse in question is primed to go very well.
7: Star riders take a large slice of the HK cake
But that cake might just be sliced a little more equally in the next few months. Zac Purton is king of the hill after an epic title success last season but Joao Moreira, the man he dethroned as champ, is back in town with renewed hunger after an abortive spell in Japan.
Karis Teetan is bang on course for his best season, while British champ Silvestre de Sousa has collected more prize money in the last eight weeks than he did booting home 176 winners during a long grind for his latest UK title. In short, the Big Two is now looking more like a Big Four. And that Big Four looks set to mop up around half of all races run in the next couple of months.
8: The rules are largely the same – but prize money is very different
The Hong Kong rule book doesn’t stray far from the UK and Irish version – but the manner in which its rules are enforced does differ. Stewards in Hong Kong break down every race in forensic detail. Every move a jockey makes – or doesn’t make – is questioned and careless riding is pinpointed and punished very swiftly.
Demotions for interference are rare – though there were two in one day at Sha Tin earlier this season – and the cultural differences between Hong Kong racing and the sport in Europe means whip bans are almost unheard of.
As for prize money, well think of a number and then quadruple it. The humblest Hong Kong Class 5 contest featuring horses rated in the low 20’s will be worth almost £70,000, while the four recent G1 contests on LONGINES HKIR day were worth a combined £9m.
9: Data is king
British and Irish form students would kill for the level of information that their Hong Kong counterparts have treated as routine for decades.
Every horse is weighed the day before he races (fillies are rarely sighted on Hong Kong tracks) and the info can then be checked against previous results on the HKJC website.
Every medical procedure a horse undergoes is logged swiftly on the same site, while students of the clock are in their element thanks to a sectional timing system that publishes every 400m split for every runner in every race just minutes after the final horse passes the post.
Pace, draw and track position are crucial to the thinking of most Hong Kong punters and their study is facilitated by any number of newspapers and pamphlets available at every news stand in the city.
10: Local stars are on a roll heading into 2019
The second third of the Hong Kong season is just getting under way with a sharp focus on a string of big-money imports from Europe and Australia bought in the hope that they might go on to glory in the BMW Hong Kong Derby.
The upcoming four-year-old Classic Series provides a series of springboards to the main event on March 17th, but Hong Kong’s budding stars will need to go some to match those who sit at the top of the tree currently.
In town after a thrilling Hong Kong Vase win; Former Ed Walker galloper Glorious Forever has usurped big-brother Time Warp as leader of the 2000m pack after his all-the-way Hong Kong Cup success under de Sousa; and Beauty Generation looks like being crowned world’s best miler after a runaway win in the Hong Kong Mile.
Make no mistake, 2019 promises to be another memorable year for Hong Kong racing. And the only place to see all the action live is on Sky Sports Racing.