Introduction to Hong Kong Racing: Part 1 - The Basics

New to Racing in Hong Kong? Start here!

While the guide below is targeted at those brand new to Hong Kong racing, it will hopefully provide some fresh insights to grizzled veterans among us as well. Disagree or have anything to add? Let us know in the comments.

Just as at any racetrack around the globe, the fundamentals of class, speed, pace, and form all apply in Hong Kong. But for a new player drawn to the largest betting pools in the world, an unfamiliar structure and massive field sizes can be overwhelming – in Part 1, let’s start with the fundamentals.

Handicaps and Weights

The first thing you need to understand about Hong Kong racing is the handicap system. The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) will assign a handicap rating to each horse that is updated after each race. This rating defines which races a horse is eligible for and how much weight the horse will carry. For American horseplayers, in particular, this importance of weight is typically the most foreign concept in picking winners.

Nearly every race in Hong Kong is a handicap race, meaning that assigned weights are based on the differences in handicap rating – weight spreads between the top rated and lowest rated horse in a race may be 20 pounds or more. The upshot is that the “best” horse in a race is not necessarily the most likely winner. Astute trainers understand the interplay between class levels and assigned handicap, and prepare their horses for peak efforts when the situation is favorable.

This also helps explain why certain apprentice jockeys are always worth a 2nd glance. Apprentices in Hong Kong can “claim” a 2 – 10 pound weight allowance (depending on lifetime wins), meaning that in certain instances, a horse can actually carry less weight off of a win or dropping in class. Local favorite This season, Matthew Poon just became the fastest Hong Kong rider to win 20 races and lose his 10 pound allowance.

The Tracks

There are 2 racecourses in Hong Kong: Sha Tin, which typically runs on Saturday or Sunday afternoons (Friday/Saturday night in the US) and Happy Valley, which typically runs on Wednesday evenings (Wednesday morning in the US). Racing in Hong Kong runs from September to July, breaking for the summer time.

Sha Tin is a colossal structure outside of Central Hong Kong built in tribute to the thoroughbred. Happy Valley is an older, beautiful track in the heart of Hong Kong’s urban center. The most significant stakes races and international Grade 1’s are run at Sha Tin, but in terms of energy and pure fun, it’s hard to beat Happy Valley’s trackside beer garden.

For the handicapper, there are several differences to note across the 2 tracks. Happy Valley only has a turf course, while Sha Tin also holds races over an “All Weather Track” (actually natural dirt). Sha Tin also has a much longer home stretch, with 1000 M (5 furlong) races run on a straightaway, which can lend itself to specialists. Aside from these quirks, however, given the same class, surface, and distance, handicappers shouldn’t expect horses based at one track to be superior to another.

Ready to dive in to the world’s largest betting pools? Check out Part 2 of our Introduction to Hong Kong horse racing, where we’ll cover the fundamentals of handicapping in Hong Kong: Class, Speed and Pace, and Form.

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