The news from the British Horseracing Authority that Royal Ascot will go ahead as planned (with “some changes to the order of races”) puts the Hong Kong Jockey Club in an interesting position.
The Jockey Club plays an integral role during Royal Ascot by hosting the “world pool” – gathering all the win, place, quinella and quinella place bets from 10 countries across the globe to provide pari-mutuel punters with better price stability and value.
It launched last year – all parties reported it was very successful – with the hope the concept can help revolutionise global betting while continuing to ensure a percentage of the profits go back to the sport. It is worth a lot of money to Royal Ascot and that certainly would have come into play for the bean counters when making the decision to push on with the current dates.
To host the “world pool” the Jockey Club has to skip a midweek Happy Valley meeting. As things stand, it doesn’t have the system/technology in place to host both the world pool and a meeting of its own at the same time (it is working on changing that).
But given the uncertainty of the Covid-19 situation, even though the British government has announced provisional approval for racing to resume from June 1, it is no sure thing.
“The exact timetable for the resumption of racing will remain subject to agreement from government and an assessment by public health officials of the risks posed by the virus at that time. Any changes to the timetable are likely to have an impact on the programme,” the BHA said in a statement.
“We must emphasise that this provisional plan may still need to be adjusted according to when and under what circumstances racing is safely able to recommence.”
Given racing in Britain has been off since March 18 and the way the coronavirus crisis has been *ahem* handled in that country, there remains some scepticism about Royal Ascot – and the other early meetings – actually going ahead in their scheduled slots.
The Jockey Club has been on the front foot and already gained approval from the Hong Kong government to hold a replacement meeting at Happy Valley on Wednesday June 17, should the famous festival fall over.
It would be the 88th meeting of the season, replacing the November 13 card that was cancelled because of the social unrest, returning the term to its full quota.
Of course, it takes time to organise a meeting – and the clock is ticking – but Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges believes he only needs two weeks to make it
“At the moment, Royal Ascot is still of the view that they can run on their scheduled dates,” he said. “So we just need to see what happens. We will make the decision at the beginning of June. I think we will have a better picture of everything in two weeks.”
If Royal Ascot does move, then the dates it shifts to also impacts the Jockey Club.
As it stands, international races cannot be simulcast in Hong Kong outside the racing season (September 1 to July 15), but Engelbrecht-Bresges hopes that can change if it needs to.
“If a meeting we have earmarked for simulcast shifts out of the season, then I am cautiously optimistic that the government would accede to that request,” he said.
“If Royal Ascot shifts to a date where we have a Wednesday meeting, then we have an issue [and we will have to find a solution]. But they are extremely optimistic they will start in June.”
On the positive side, if everything goes ahead, racing fans in Hong Kong could enjoy a plethora of international racing in the coming months if everything remains as scheduled.
“We could have the English Derby on July 4, we would have an 11-race card at Sha Tin on Sunday [July 5] then to make the day complete we would have two French races [the Prix de Jockey Club and Prix Diane],” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
The Jockey Club has done a terrific job to ensure racing in Hong Kong has continued through the pandemic, but it is not immune from the consequences in other jurisdictions.