Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will not be at Sha Tin on Sunday and the Jockey Club is optimistic the first race meeting of the new season will not be disrupted by protesters.
Lam has been a regular fixture at the meeting – striking the gong to open the season in each of the past seven years, firstly in her role as Chief Secretary before becoming Chief Executive in 2017 – but no government officials will be at the track in their official capacities this weekend.
The gong-striking ceremony will instead be performed by Jockey Club chairman Anthony Chow Wing-kin, while he will also present the trophy to the winning connections of the feature race, the HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup.
It is the first time since the handover in 1997 that no government officials will attend the season opener.
There have been murmurs about pro-democracy protesters having a presence at Sha Tin, with the Jockey Club receiving daily updates from its security team, but it is confident it is prepared for any situation.
“We will go ahead with the season-opening race day as planned,” a Jockey Club spokesperson said.
“We will closely monitor the current situation in the community, and will remain vigilant on any scenarios that may affect the race meetings.
“In any case, the club has well-established procedures for every race meeting to ensure the safety of its staff, customers and racehorses.”
The total attendance across the two tracks on opening day last year was 74,722, but the Jockey Club is not expecting that many this time around.
To encourage punters to have a wager, there will be a HK$13.5 million jackpot on the Triple Trio, as well as almost HK$2 million more in the Six Win Bonus pool.
Meanwhile, the Jockey Club announced it had made a record tax contribution of HK$23.3 billion and added HK$1.3 billion to the Lotteries Fund while approving donations of HK$4.3 billion in the 2018-19 financial year.
Those numbers come on the back of an overall wagering and lottery turnover of HK$247.5 billion (up 5.8 per cent) despite a challenging economic environment.
Racing and football turnover set records at HK$125.0 billion (up 1.8 per cent) and HK$114.1 billion (up 10.7 per cent), respectively. Turnover on the Mark Six lottery was up by 4.3 per cent to HK$8.4 billion.
Chow spoke at the Annual General Meeting on Wednesday night, explaining it had been another exceptional year for the Jockey Club.
“This is made possible through the club’s unique integrated business model of racing and racecourse entertainment, a membership club, responsible sports wagering and lottery, and charities and community contribution,” Chow said.
“It is this model, combined with the success of the club’s business strategy, which has enabled the club to make record returns to the community.”