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HomeSportsHKIR week feels normal again, but routine lack of Australian interest ‘definitely...

HKIR week feels normal again, but routine lack of Australian interest ‘definitely disappointing’ | HK Racing


It’s far from a normal week in Hong Kong racing, but there was a welcome sense of normality at Sha Tin for Monday’s Longines International Jockeys’ Championship (IJC) draw.

On IJC draw day last year, Hollie Doyle returned an “indifferent” Covid result on arrival in Hong Kong and was in doubt for the competition before being cleared on the Tuesday, the same day Yuga Kawada was ruled out after testing positive before even leaving Japan, becoming the second of three jockeys to miss the event.

The year before, we had a delayed private plane, meaning a host of star riders arrived in Hong Kong 24 hours later than planned.

There have been quarantine bubbles, countless Zoom interviews, capped crowds, “repositive” Covid results to go with “indifferent” ones, jockeys riding in masks and just about everything in between.

Tom Marquand celebrates an International Jockeys’ Championship race win in his mask.

But now, after three years of Covid-induced chaos during the city’s biggest week of racing, the shackles are fully off, and it seems – fingers crossed – the 2023 Hong Kong International Races build-up might actually be mostly about the racing.

However, while this year normal is nice, there’s one aspect of what has become routine that isn’t sitting well with Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges – the lack of interest in his “Turf World Championships” from Australia.

While thrilled by the support from the master Aidan O’Brien and the Japanese, and generally happy with the fields for Sunday’s four Group One features, Engelbrecht-Bresges is clearly irked by the absence of Australia-trained gallopers.

“We wanted to have certain horses, and we definitely got them. Australia is definitely disappointing, but in the discussions we’ve had, one of the major issues is the quarantine, which doesn’t facilitate participation,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges at Monday’s International Jockeys’ Championship draw.

“Some horses who wanted to come, when they go back, they have to do another two weeks in Australia, and not in a facility that enables to train – really – your horses, and that takes them out of action for too long.

“It’s a fundamental issue which is not easy to resolve, but it is definitely not good for global racing that sports horses don’t have an exemption for being able to participate in global competition. The quarantine kills it.

“Romantic Warrior went through this [when travelling to Melbourne for October’s Cox Plate], but the good thing is that when he came back, he was in quarantine, but he can train on the track where he works. If he would have to go to an outside quarantine station, he would not have made it to the internationals.”

While limited Australian interest is nothing new – the country hasn’t had an international day winner since 2001 – there’s been a horse from Down Under travel to Hong Kong for every HKIR in the past decade except for the 2020 and 2021 Covid-hampered runnings and 2017’s event, which fell during the early stages of the quarantine impasse that followed the addition of Conghua Racecourse in mainland China to Hong Kong’s equine biosphere.

Australian trainer David Hayes.

But while that dispute and now Covid are firmly in the rear-view mirror, the Jockey Club’s struggles attracting Australian runners certainly are not as the country’s prize money goes through the roof.

“I would say you’ll see an Australian presence in autumn because, after the autumn, they can have a spell and come back for the spring. One of the issues for Australian horses, when the international races are on, is they don’t get a break and could miss some of the autumn if they came here,” said Australian Hall of Fame trainer David Hayes, whose sons Ben, Will & JD ultimately aborted a plan to bring their stable star, Mr Brightside, to Sha Tin after a gruelling spring campaign.

“In light of the mega money in Australia, a clever thing they could do to lure the Australian horses for the December races is, maybe, to put a winning bonus if you win something in Australia and then win a Hong Kong international.

“That means you only get the best horses coming because it’s worth risking the autumn. If you come here in December, by the time you go through quarantine, it jeopardises the autumn.”

Purton and Fownes to team up for first time since September 2021 in IJC

While not too enthused by Hayes’ bonus idea, Engelbrecht-Bresges is searching for something that could spark Australian interest in years to come.

“Bonuses normally work for the first race, not the second, as you have it for only one horse. But we will review what we do and what we can do to be even more competitive,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

“After the meeting, we will consider what more we can do. I have certain ideas, and we will have further discussions with key stakeholders.”

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