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Jockey Club maintains a repeat of 2020 HKIR is ‘best-case’ scenario amid Delta variant concerns

Last year’s event took place under intense scrutiny and chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges expects similar challenges in 2021

The 2020 Hong Kong International Races were a raging success despite a myriad of Covid-19-related challenges and Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges maintains a repeat dose this December would be the “best-case” scenario.

Last year’s event took place under intense pressure and while the Covid-19 situation in Hong Kong has been stable for some time, Engelbrecht-Bresges expects the challenges of holding an international showcase to be much the same in 2021.

“I have to admit that I’m a little bit concerned with the Delta variant and we cannot take as [guaranteed] that everything will be the same,” he said.

“We are already looking at the health protocols and what we have to do extra to address additional risk factors.

“It’s good we proved last year we could do this but I asked for a review [and whether] we have to do more due to the Delta variant, so we have already started the discussion with the government and I am cautiously optimistic we can convince them.”

The Jockey Club forked out millions in additional funds to ensure an international presence at last year’s HKIR, with overseas participants operating within a quarantine bubble to ensure they could go about their business without interacting with the general population.

Big-name jockeys like Ryan Moore and Mickael Barzalona were flown in on private jets, ensuring the International Jockeys’ Championship was just that, and three of the four Group Ones went offshore – one to Ireland thanks to Mogul and two to Japan through Danon Smash and Normcore.

The event did lack the big-name Australian and New Zealand jockeys that have traditionally descended on the event, as well as any southern-hemisphere trained runners, and only time will tell if that changes this time around.

“We will have to look at the situation at the time but I still think we aim for having a big international race meeting,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

“I am optimistic because I personally think we have demonstrated we have a proven system and we have not only the system but we have executed it, therefore I am optimistic that we can convince the government to repeat.”

A dozen horses from Europe and Japan descended on Sha Tin for last year’s event – including three Aidan O’Brien-trained stars – and officials remain confident of again attracting top-line gallopers.

“I think last year’s experience, for some of them, means they feel ‘OK, I can do this’ and I would say there is significant interest from Europe for good horses to come here,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said. “When I was in Chantilly to see my horses I had a discussion with two or three trainers, one of them was Andre [Fabre] and he would be keen to come.”

Jockey Club declares added millions ‘definitely worthwhile’ for truly global HKIR

While only 271 people attended 2020 international day, the Jockey Club is gearing up to welcome as many as 15,000 fans to Sunday’s season opener at Sha Tin and Engelbrecht-Bresges is confident a significant HKIR crowd would not make the international quarantine bubble harder to manage.

“Even if we have the numbers, it’s not as risky because we have this biosecurity mapping that if we bring a crowd in it should not impact on any risk situation with transmitting the virus,” he said.

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