There have been numerous efforts to get horse racing going again in mainland China over the years.
Recently the latest attempt at holding a race meeting took place in the Inner Mongolian city of Hohhot.
While Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, has an ethnically diverse population of some 2 million people and an interesting history, it has absolutely no connection with horse racing as we know it. It is quite well known for its dairy industry but cows are not horses.
This event, known by its promoters as the China Equine Cultural Festival, was an 8 race meeting with 4 races for “international horses” and 4 for locals. Various officials were brought in to assist with training and other functions as were the jockeys and the speakers at a talk fest (was this the “cultural” part of the event?) no doubt at great expense to the promoters and the international media who managed to get replies to their emails got their at vast expense to themselves. A media pass – which was in most cases never delivered – was US$1,000. Plus entry to the talk fest also had to be paid for.
The meeting, described as China’s “richest ever race day” still lacked the one element that would indicate that this was “the dawn of a new era” – betting. The promoters who go under the name of the China Horse Club have a web site showing pictures of fabulous grandstands and “clubhouses” but so far they don’t have a race track on which to place these fantasy land palaces. They also mention trips by private jet to their chateaus (sic) which presumably will grace other race tracks, but these are also in dreamland.
There was no grandstand at Hohhot – a series of Mongolian gurs or tents for the invited VIPs which did not include the racing media. The track was dirt, tight, and with surface water although the jockeys said they would race on it but since many of them could not get insurance it was clear no risks were to be taken. The local horses were not under the care of the same people who looked after the international horses (who have now become Chinese horses since they will not be able to leave China) and one died on the track and was removed by a front-end loader while the presentation ceremony was going on.
The international horses had been sourced through Coolmore, presumably thinking they were going to a reasonable centre in Tianjin. This was not ready (not for the first time) and therefore the meeting was moved to Hohhot.
There is supposed to be another “international meeting” at Chengdu in late October although nobody knows much about it at this time. While there is the common factor of the China Horse Club and their parent company Desert Star Holdings, it is Sheik Mohammed and Meydan who are backing this venture and this means that Darley, the great rivals of Coolmore, will be sourcing the horses.
Obviously racing in China will happen, but having worked in China we know that this will happen when the Chinese Government deems it to be the right time, and not one nano second before. In the meantime some thoroughbred horses are being sent to a very uncertain future and this should be of concern to everyone who loves horses.