Where are the Aussies as Hong Kong marches into China?

Where are the Aussies as Hong Kong marches into China?

It was no surprise that the Hong Kong Jockey Club used its showpiece International race week to announce its next step towards training and racing in China.

But it is the HKJC’s visionary new facility in Conghua, an area near Guangzhou, that is the very reason no Australian horses are competing in the Turf World Championships at Sha Tin on Sunday.

Despite Australian bred horses accounting for almost 50% of the equine population in Hong Kong, new rigid quarantine restrictions imposed in October by the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, has virtually made it impossible for Australian’s best home stars to compete in Hong Kong, save for accepting an expensive and time consuming six month detour via New Zealand to get home.

It was the addition of Conghua to Hong Kong’s equine bio-environment that saw the seemingly draconian restrictions or effective ban of Australian horses competing at any of Hong Kong international race meetings come into place, much to the chagrin of the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

With world racing leader’s assembled in Hong Kong this week, there are rumblings at officials levels at the Australian industry’s seeming lack of clout to negotiate a more reasonable outcome with the DAWR.

Simmering talks of ramifications from sanctions (whatever that might mean) to redressing the simulcast agreement between Hong Kong and Australia (more South African meetings are now included, while the Cox Plate meeting was a scratching from this year’s list) have been floated in behind the scenes discussions.

Andrew Harding, the Jockey Club’s executive director of Racing Authority, said when the DAWR statement was released in September that the reasons for the restrictions were “fundamentally inaccurate”.

Harding told the South China Morning Post at the time that Australian racing authorities had been kept abreast of small-scale horse movements between the Conghua training centre (CTC) and Hong Kong in February last year and had been “congratulated” by Australia’s chief veterinary officer.

The trial was supervised by the Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), Chinese veterinary authorities and Customs and Immigration authorities of Hong Kong and mainland China.

“On each occasion, the horses were transported in government authority-sealed, GPS-monitored vehicles and were stabled in high security stables within the CTC during the entire period within China, all under the supervision of government veterinary officials and the HKJC,” Harding told the SCMP.

“There was no possibility of the horses transported to the CTC coming in contact with, or even in the vicinity of local resident horses during the trials, because the entire Conghua administrative district, covering an area of 2,009 square kilometres, including the 5km radius core area surrounding Conghua, is not only officially ‘disease free’, it is ‘local-horse free’, and that disease and horse freedom is enforced by China’s Ministry of Agriculture.”

The HKJC said the protocols around Conghua had the approval of the European Commission and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

None of this was going to have any effect on the HKJC telling the world’s leading racing jurisdictions about their updated training and racing plans for Conghua, a facility originally developed for the 2010 Asian Games, but now a key strategic part of the HKJC’s vision to take professional racing (rather than propriety racing) into China, albeit originally with no wagering.

The HKJC has invested HK$3.7b into developing the Conghua training centre to date and expects to commence training on a limited basis from June next year expanding in August with racing expected to follow (with Hong Kong horses, trainers and jockeys in 2019).

“However, our development in Conghua is not for introducing racing with betting, especially as it is against the law in China,” HKJC chief executive Winfried Englebrecht-Bresges said.

“We have to address the asset health and capacity issues in Sha Tin in relation to tracks and training options, including more grass and uphill gallops,” he said.

“This includes state-of-the-art stables and an environment which can accommodate not only geldings, but horses with breeding potential to justify the ever-increasing investment of our owners to secure world-class horses. We also need dedicated spelling and rehabilitation facilities. Further, the current intense environment in Sha Tin is not ideal to develop younger horses.” Engelbrecht-Bresges remarked that the Club’s vision to bring Hong Kong racing to a world-class standard began in 1998, and today Hong Kong is already widely recognized as one of the world’s leading racing jurisdictions and centre of excellence in horse racing.

“By the end of 2016, a record 26 Hong Kong-trained horses were in the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, representing 8% of the global total, while all 11 of the Club’s Group 1 races were in the World’s Top 100 Group 1 Races.” said Mr Engelbrecht-Bresges, “but to ensure our future growth, we identified a need for more modern training facilities.”

“Being probably the most demanding and significant project the Club has ever undertaken, the Conghua Training Centre is going to be one of the most significant milestones in the history of Hong Kong racing when it opens in August 2018,” he said.

“This project is fully endorsed, and is only possible, due to the support of the Hong Kong and Mainland governments. We have overcome many challenges, from establishing the first Equine Disease-free Zone in China with the support of the OIE, the Hong Kong and Mainland governments, in extending the health status of Hong Kong into Conghua. We have obtained special permission for seamless cross-border transportation of horses, for our veterinarians to practice in China, to import horse feed and medication and to establish the first comprehensive equine clinic in the Chinese Mainland.”

Engelbrecht-Bresges added that “CTC has a great potential to enhance Conghua and Guangzhou’s branding by hosting showcase racing carnivals to demonstrate our world-class racing and its operations, ranging from world-class horses and jockeys to expertise in horse care. We plan to have our first showcase racing carnival in 2019, very similar to what the NBA does to showcase their top basketball teams in the Chinese Mainland.”

It is clear that the HKJC is looking to Australian racing officials to do more to have the restrictions imposed because of Conghua by the DAWR re-dressed and as soon  as possible.

Australia is the biggest exporter of horses to Hong Kong highlighted by the number of Australian bred runners competing on Sunday (and at every HKJC meeting).

Under the new quarantine rulings, horses can still be directly transported to Hong Kong, following the likes of Longines HKJC Mile favourite Seasons Bloom (formerly Le Capitaine when a Pakenham maiden winner before being purchased for Hong Kong from Brendan McCathy’s stable).

Of course Kiwi Werther, a Queensland derby winner, runs for Australians John Moore and Tommy Berry as favourite in the Longines Hong Kong Cup while Australian bred Mr Stunning (by Exceed And Excel) runs favourite in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint after coming to Hong Kong, unraced as a PPG (Privately Purchased Griffin).

Eagle Way, who runs also for Moore and Berry was a Queensland Derby winner as one of four wins from 13 Australian starts before heading to Hong Kong.

The lack of Australian trained runners at Sunday’s international meeting has little effect on the depth of the meeting, we have had small numbers by participation in the last decade, but it clear, the ties between Hong Kong and Australia are again weakened by the quarantine situation as the HKJC marches into the last big frontier of world racing in mainland China.

“We have made a capital investment of HK$3.7 billion in Conghua, for a truly state-of-the-art training centre, and we have also committed an additional HK$1.5 billion to start a multiyear complete renovation of Sha Tin once Conghua is in operation,” said Engelbrecht-Bresges.

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