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The Macau Jockey Club and Hong Kong Jockey Club are in dialogue about enabling suitable ‘retired’ horses to move from Hong Kong to continue their careers in Macau.
Macau’s struggling racing industry could receive a much-needed fillip of regular transfers of horses from Hong Kong in the coming months. The two racing clubs and the relevant government departments are currently working to iron out agreement on regulations and processes which, if given the green light, would allow retired Hong Kong horses to relocate directly to Macau to continue their racing careers.
Discussions between the Macau Jockey Club (MJC) and the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) have been ongoing for several months, since the Macau side approached the HKJC about the possibility of retired Hong Kong horses boosting Taipa’s dwindling numbers without having to quarantine via a third jurisdiction.
The term ‘retired’ in Hong Kong parlance means simply that a horse’s Hong Kong-based racing career is over: reasons could include injury, reaching the maximum racing age of ten, or a total loss of form; or it could mean a raceable horse – peaked at a lowly rating, perhaps – moving on to continue its racing career in a nearby jurisdiction where the competition is more suitable.
Twenty horses have retired from Hong Kong racing in the past two weeks alone – some of which might have been ripe for export to Macau – and sources said Covid issues have made relocating retired horses out of Hong Kong more difficult.
The HKJC’s Executive Director of Racing Andrew Harding confirmed via email to Asian Racing Report that the Club is “considering the MJC’s request” and that “a number of issues are relevant to look at, which will take time.”
One source suggested a timeframe of three months would be the earliest the first shipment of horses – likely to be about 15-20 in number – might leave Hong Kong for Macau but the more realistic expectation is that it would be deeper into 2023, should any agreement be reached and ratified.
“The Macau trainers and a lot of the Hong Kong owners would like it to happen,” Macau trainer Stanley Chin told Asian Racing Report. “It would give some of those horses a second chance; as horsemen, we know that if some horses don’t perform in Hong Kong it doesn’t mean they’re all bad horses. Some need more time and I see a lot of young horses that aren’t given that time to mature and develop in their training and they’re retired because of their performances.”
Historically, the HKJC has not been in favour of any such shipment and lacked confidence in the Macau side’s quarantine facilities being up to the standards it required.
As a result, there is no protocol in place between the two governments to enable direct, full-time relocation of HKJC-trained horses to the MJC. Instead, a horse must pass through a third jurisdiction – usually Australia or New Zealand, at the owner’s expense – and go through quarantine there before being allowed to relocate to a Macau trainer’s stable. That was the path taken when the high-class former John Moore-trained galloper Thanks Forever left Hong Kong and resumed his career in Macau via New Zealand.
Chin had two horses in his stable last season that arrived in Macau from Hong Kong via New Zealand or Australia. Copartners Glory was last of ten behind Aethero in a Griffin race – his sole Hong Kong race when named Copartner – in May 2019 but since moving to Macau has won two races for Chin in the past 15 months; while Marqula won two from ten at Taipa before retiring for good.
“Marqula won two Class 4 races for Michael Chang in Hong Kong but had a tendon injury and had to retire,” said Chin. “The owner contacted me and we sent him to New Zealand, had him assessed, found he was fit and well and then brought him back to Macau. He did very well, had ten races, won twice and had three or four places before we retired him to a friend’s retirement farm in China.”
More such low grade horses could be given opportunities to shine in Macau should the MJC and Macau government succeed in formulating a protocol that MJC officials and trainers hope will be acceptable to both the HKJC and the Hong Kong Government’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).
The Macau Jockey Club has a quarantine facility at Taipa, capable of holding approximately 50 horses. The barn underwent improvements two years ago but Asian Racing Report has learned that the current facility will be renovated and upgraded again to pass muster with Macau government inspectors and meet HKJC expectations.
Traditionally there has been a cross-over of Hong Kong Jockey Club-registered owners also owning horses in Macau. Most notable among those at present is one of Hong Kong’s biggest owners Simon Kwok Siu Ming – famous for his Beauty-named horses – whose former Australian mare Beauty Bolt was previously with Chin and is currently with trainer Geoff Allendorf.
But a number of Hong Kong-based Macau owners have withdrawn their support in the last 18 months, as a result of Covid lockdowns that have made it difficult for Hong Kong residents to make the journey across the Pearl River channel to see their Macau-based horses in action. Any Hong Kong resident entering Macau must undertake seven days’ quarantine upon arrival.
That has negated the ease of movement the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge should have brought since its opening in October 2018. That new age of easier transportation between Hong Kong and Macau might have included the transportation of racehorses, too, but since Covid broke out in early 2020, and with strict measures still in place in Macau, the world’s longest sea crossing has not yet been utilised in that regard.
That avenue is further complicated by the fact that while the Macau and Hong Kong governments are in open dialogue about the movement of horses between the two special administrative regions, use of the bridge to ship horses would require additional approval from government agencies in mainland China.
It is probable that given the time that would take to process and pass – if the Hong Kong and Macau parties do reach agreement – any early shipments would be by the old method of boat, used to transport horses for one-off competition such as the pre-Covid reciprocal Inter-port trophy races between horses from the two clubs.
With Macau down to fewer than 280 horses, any influx of racing stock from Hong Kong, by boat or bridge, would be a lifeline to the ailing sport in the once vibrant jurisdiction and also give those otherwise surplus horses a second chance at a racing career after Hong Kong.
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