Irish punters can for the first time join the famously deep Hong Kong betting pools through the thetote.com from May in a move that is sure to prove attractive to serious bettors.
Hong Kong boasts the biggest per-race betting turnover in the world. Turnover per race among the various pools on offer typically reaches a figure in the region of €20 million and Irish players will initially be allowed to be bet into the Win, Place and Tierce (Trifecta pools).
The Most Competitive Racing In The World
On a race-to-race basis, it is hard to conceive of a more competitive racing environment anywhere in the world. The 1,200 or so horses in the Hong Kong system are divided between 22 trainers at present at Sha Tin with a maximum of 55 horses allowed per stable.
It is all Flat racing. Full fields are always coveted by the HKJC to generate maximum turnover with fields of 14 sanctioned for Sha Tin and 12 for the tighter Happy Valley circuit. Only these two tracks are used. Sha Tin is usually for weekend programmes starting at around 1pm local time (5am in Ireland in winter, 6am in summer) whereas Happy Valley is most often the venue for midweek cards starting at 7.15pm (11.15am in winter, 12.15pm summertime in Ireland).
Sha Tin also hosts a dirt track, similar to American dirt surfaces, and around 10 per cent of HK’s races take place on this course. The vast majority of morning trackwork is conducted on the dirt also. The Sha Tin turf course is a galloping track of 1m1f circumference with a home straight in excess of two furlongs. Happy Valley is a fraction over seven furlongs in circumference with the home straight of about a furlong-and-a-half.
Track Bias & Average Distance
Track bias is always something that has to be monitored. For example, a rain-affected track on the dirt tends to favour front-runners. On the turf tracks, there four are different configurations used each meeting whereby the rail is pushed further out from the inside to allow the churned grass to be reseeded and regenerate.
Speed maps of predicted positions after settling can be found in the Speed Pro section of each race. These maps are sourced by the HKJC from independent form experts judged on previous racing patterns and those established in trials, although they can only be deemed as a guide.
In terms of average distance, most of the races staged are for sprinters and milers. Horses from Australia and New Zealand make up the majority of the Hong Kong racing population although a sizeable pool of Irish-bred and formerly Irish-trained horses, comprising about 15 per cent of the population, also regularly punch above their weight. Champions of recent times in Hong Kong that have hailed from Ireland include Designs On Rome (IRE), Peniaphobia (IRE), Gold-Fun (IRE), Lucky Nine (IRE), Military Attack (IRE), Rich Tapestry (IRE) et al.
Other Hong Kong champions since the turn of the century include the world champion sprinters Silent Witness and Sacred Kingdom, Royal Ascot winner Little Bridge, the brilliant Fairy King Prawn, world champion miler Able Friend, Viva Pataca, Dubai Sheema Classic winner Vengeance Of Rain…it is a long list and the quality is constantly kept to a high standard since owners with permits are always keen to spend big to recruit the best thoroughbred talent from around the world.
Over 98 per cent of the races staged in Hong Kong are handicaps. This ranges from those in the lowest grade, Class 5 rated 40 and below to Class 4 rated 40—60, Class 3 spreading from 60 to 80, Class 2 from 80 to 100 and Class 1 from a mark of 100 upwards. As such, the maximum spread in handicaps is usually 20lbs, ranging from 133lbs (9st7lbs) to 113lbs (8st1lb).
Generous Prize Money
Not surprisingly, considering the lavish amounts bet on these races, the prize-money in HK is very generous with the lowest grade winners’ purse weighing in at over €40,000.
Another thing to note is how tightly they race. Riders’ position in transit is crucial, so missing the start and being caught wide and without cover is very much frowned upon given how little there often is between horses in terms of ability and how accurately their handicap marks often are. In short, there is little margin for error and there is scarcely a harder place in the world to ride a winner.
To get a handle on the form, go to www.hkjc.com/english – undoubtedly one of the finest repositories of racing information in the world. All the info is free and no registration is required. Every horse has a detailed record of its trackwork and veterinary history online. Previous race videos are of excellent quality with regular and head-on views as standard; barrier trials (mock races under race conditions in the mornings to aid race fitness) videos are also present among a trove of quality data.
Also well worth checking out before you get to betting selections is the Racing To Win preview broadcast on Hong Kong TV by HKJC form experts. This can be found under the Multimedia Showcase section. New Zealander Paul Lally and Australian senior race caller Brett Davis are particularly good judges. The team’s Best Bets and Best Plays are always worth look in their final analysis on the last race previewed. These guys have working been in Hong Kong for many years and understand the system. This local experience is invaluable.
The views of Jenny Chapman who assesses the horses in the paddock are also well worth heeding as she frequently finds good-priced results judged purely on how they present pre-race and her views are aired on the live feed from Hong Kong on ATR and RUK.
There are no hard and fast rules to finding winners in Hong Kong although the domination in recent years by the gifted Brazilian jockey Joao Moreira has undoubtedly transformed the racing landscape. The record-breaking ability of the ‘Magic Man’ to partner winners is unparalleled and, as a result, his mounts are routinely much shorter odds than if someone else was riding. Moreira riding trebles and four-timers and even bigger hauls at any given meeting has become the norm and, memorably, he rode eight winners at one Sha Tin programme early in March of this year. Opposing his mounts clearly can be difficult, but it can be a profitable strategy.
Other jockeys to note are Australian rider and former champion, Zac Purton, by some margin the second most successful rider in the territory nowadays. A special word should also be made for Kildare native Neil Callan who has carved out tremendous niche for himself there over the past few years and is third on the list at the time of writing. South African rider Douglas Whyte ruled the roost for 13 years consecutively from the start of this century and still ranks prominently.
The “Big Four” Trainers
In terms of trainers, the ‘big four’ has remained much the same over several years. Dominant in terms of championships (eight times, soon to be nine) is the gifted Australian, John Size, whereas his compatriot, John Moore, usually heads the prize-money earnings table at the end of each season. Caspar Fownes, so often the trainer who fares best at Happy Valley, and Tony Cruz are both former champions who can rarely be ignored.
It is also instructive to follow the money trial. Irish bettors will not be allowed to bet directly via www.hkjc.com into the pools but you can get a very good idea of where the money is going from tracking the eWin racing section to the top right of the hkjc.com website. Odds are colour-coded in green if there has been downward shift in odds by 20 per cent and in brown if the market alters by 50 per cent.
Hong Kong racing might take a little getting used to, but many believe it represents the pinnacle of the sport and its introduction this season has proved very popular in Britain. Either way, the racing is very well organised, it is very competitive and is now available to offer Irish punters a compelling alternative to the norm.
Bet on Hong Kong twice weekly on thetote.com