THE 2010/11 racing season ended in sensational fashion at Sha Tin today (10 July) as more than 62,000 racing fans flocked to the racecourse for our season’s finale, while a host of outstanding racehorses and horsemen were commended for their outstanding achievements this season at the annual Champion Awards Presentation Ceremony.

The excitement continued right up to the final moments of the season with John Moore coming with a storming finish to catch Tony Cruz for the trainers’ championship whose destination was still in the balance until the last few races.

“We witnessed a thrilling finale to the trainers’ championship today,” enthused Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, “with John Moore coming with a late run of four winners to collar Tony Cruz. After a battle that was as thrilling and unpredictable as last year’s for the jockeys’ championship our congratulations go to John, whose first championship this is since 1995, and very well done too to Tony whose superb form this season has contributed so much to a magnificent climax.

“I must also mention the marvellous achievement of Douglas Whyte in winning his 11th successive jockeys’ championship. This is an ultra-competitive environment for jockeys as demonstrated by the fact that not one was able to reach 100 winners this season, and to retain his supremacy for so long just shows what a dedicated, top class sportsman he is.”

The day’s turnover of HK$1,373 million, the highest since the season finale of 2000/01, has pushed the total turnover this season to HK$80.413 billion, representing an increase of 6.5 percent on last term’s HK$75.497 billion. Accordingly, the racing betting duty paid to the Government reached HK$9.557 billion, showing a rise of 6.2 per cent compared with last term’s HK$9.002 billion.

But the gross margin attributed to the Club from racing amounted to HK$3.594 billion, compared with HK$3.398 billion in 2009/10. Race meeting attendances showed a slight decrease from 1.956 million to 1.918 million, or 1.9 percentage points.

Engelbrecht-Bresges was delighted to see the rise in racing turnover which broke the HK$80 billion mark for the first time since the 2000/01 racing season. Showing a comparable rise was racing betting tax which was the highest since the 2002/03 season, but he stressed that the slender growth in the Club’s margin is something worthy of note.

“We are pleased to see racing turnover continuing to thrive, and this fully reflects the confidence and support of the racing public in our world-class racing product. With bullish growth and environment, the Club again fulfils its role in channelling the gaming demand of the local community in a regulated and responsible way, and as a stable source that contributes substantial tax revenues to the public coffers,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

“Having said that though, we have only slight growth in our racing surplus, and we should not take this lightly, as if there’s ever a downward trend, it could limit the Club’s ability to reinvest in its core racing business, which could affect the long-term sustainability of Hong Kong racing’s development.”

Elsewhere, the Club’s overseas simulcast races earned ever greater popularity with racing fans this season as their total turnover reached HK$1,357 million for 99 races, compared with HK$850 million from 80 simulcast races last term. The average turnover per race rose 29 per cent this season from HK$10.6 million to HK$13.7 million, providing further evidence of simulcasting’s increasing popularity.

“It is definitely a healthy growth and it shows the great demand for simulcasting among local racing fans. With some of our regional counterparts having already initiated commingling arrangements, the Club’s need to follow suit has become quite pressing and I do hope the Government can relax our related restrictions to prevent the Club from falling behind this major trend in global racing development,” said Engelbrecht-Bresges.

On track our top racehorses again showed great competitiveness at international level. Veteran speedster Ultra Fantasy gave a dazzling performance in the Sprinters Stakes in Japan last October to help trainer Ricky Yiu and jockey Alex Lai become the first all Chinese trainer-jockey partnership to combine for a winner in an overseas Group 1 event.

We also witnessed a changing of the guard as members of the younger generation like Ambitious Dragon, Lucky Nine, Xtension and Beauty Flash rose to prominence, seizing the baton from older champions like Viva Pataca and Good Ba Ba, both of whom have been retired this season.

There will be changes in our trainers’ ranks as trainer Alex Wong, now 58, will be retiring from racing. Since being granted a trainer’s licence in 1986/87, Wong has saddled over 350 winners in a distinguished 25-year training career in Hong Kong. Club Chairman Brian Stevenson presented him with a souvenir before racing at Sha Tin today.

A newcomer who will be joining the local trainers’ ranks will be formerly French-based Englishman, Richard Gibson. The 41-year-old trainer, who prepped Doctor Dino to win successive runnings of the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase in 2007 and 2008, will move his base from Chantilly to Hong Kong. Local racing fans will have the chance to see how this young trainer plies his trade in Hong Kong in the new season which begins on Sunday, 11 September.

A variety of major refurbishments and upgrading work will take place at Sha Tin and Happy Valley Racecourses in the coming two years to provide our different customer segments, including Owners, Club Members and other racegoers, with even better facilities and comfort level, as well as more choices of racing and dining experience at the racecourse.

The development of Hong Kong racing is a work in constant progress, and there is no aspect of it on which the Club stands still. Similarly 2010/11 has seen strong development among the ranks of racing’s stars: our horses.

This was a season in which many achievements on the track, particularly by young horses, surpassed even reasonable expectation. Ambitious Dragon equalled the record set only last year by Entrapment by collecting seven victories in a season; and perhaps the 2011 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby winner’s haul was even more meritorious as it included three victories at G1 or HKG1 level. As a result of these remarkable performances, this sensational four-year-old son of Pins was crowned Horse of the Year. He also won awards as Champion Middle-distance Horse and Most Improved Horse, and was voted by the public as the Most Popular Horse of the Year.

Others who excelled in 2010/11 were the great Sacred Kingdom who was Champion Sprinter for a fourth successive year; Beauty Flash, whose hat trick of G1 and HKG1 victories secured him the title of Champion Miler; and Mighty High, whose triumph in the HKG1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup saw him acclaimed Champion Stayer. Young sensation Bear Hero was the Champion Griffin of the season.

At the end of another great season we bade farewell to all time greats Good Ba Ba and Viva Pataca whose illustrious racing careers have finally come to an end. We did however witness tremendous performances from a cluster of up-and-coming horses, with such as Ambitious Dragon, Xtension, Lucky Nine, Flying Blue and Sichuan Success showing they will be worthy standard bearers of Hong Kong racing in the future and perhaps that they are already prepared to step into those old heroes’ shoes.