It’s not football, rugby or basketball that draws the biggest sporting crowds in Hong Kong; instead, it’s horse racing that is the main event. So much so that the midweek racing action at the city’s Happy Valley Racecourse has earned itself the moniker ‘Happy Wednesday’.
It’s on Wednesdays that the crowds turn out in droves to enjoy a cheeky bet or two and a generous helping of beer, food, live music, and prizes. Indeed, horse racing is big business in Hong Kong. Run by the non-profit Hong Kong Jockey Club, it’s the only legal betting outfit in the city, and it has two racecourses as well as 100 betting shops under a government license.
Last year, Hong Kong Jockey Club posted record-breaking profits of HK$216.5 billion (US$28 billion) in the 2016–2017 financial year alone.
For a mere HK$10 entrance fee, it’s cheap and cheerful entertainment, and the atmosphere is always lively with an international crowd enjoying the weekly party in the heart of the city’s centre. The Happy Valley Racecourse has become one of the most famous racecourses in the world. Surrounded by the dizzying skyscrapers of Hong Kong’s iconic skyline, it all adds to the overall atmosphere.
Of course, there are serious gamblers who keep glued to their TV screens in brightly lit betting halls, but most people come for a bit of fun and to soak up the incredible vibe of the event.
Whereas football or basketball players tend to be sporting heroes in the States and Europe, in Hong Kong, it’s the horse racing jockeys who are the stars of the show. They are the city’s equivalent of Cristiano Ronaldo or Floyd Mayweather, and if they win their races, they can earn massive prize money and usually an army of female admirers too.
There’s live music from a latin band and a general party atmosphere, and despite the generous amounts of alcohol consumed, there are no fights. Everyone stops to watch the races and cheer the horses home.
People come to test their luck and enjoy the entertainment in what usually lives up to its promise of being a ‘Happy Wednesday’ for most who attend.
Horse racing was first introduced to Hong Kong during British colonial rule in 1884. The Hong Kong Jockey Club was previously known as The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club until 1997 when Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty, and it was then renamed.
Today, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is the largest taxpayer in Hong Kong. Last year, the club paid the government HK$21.7 billion (US$2.8 billion) in duty and profits tax, hitting an all-time high. The club is also the largest donator to charities in the city.
With record-breaking profits and the crowds still flocking to the city’s main event, here’s betting that Happy Wednesdays are set to be a winning formula for many a year to come.