Introduction to Hong Kong Racing: Part 2 - Picking Winners

This is Part 2 of our exclusive introductory guide to Hong Kong racing. Check back soon for more tips and wagering strategies!

Class Levels

Aside from stakes races and “Griffin” races, Hong Kong racing is conducted almost exclusively across 5 class levels: Class 1 is comprised of the highest rated horses in Hong Kong, while Class 5 is the lowest rated group. The HKJC can revoke the right to race in Hong Kong for non-competitive runners in Class 5.

Here are the HKT Speed Figure pars for each class level:

  • Class 1: 98
  • Class 2: 96
  • Class 3: 90 (91 for routes)
  • Class 4: 85
  • Class 5: 80

Class 4 races are the most frequently carded in Hong Kong, and provide a useful baseline for the other classes. The most significant class gap in Hong Kong is between Classes 4 and 5 – even non-competitive Class 4 types demand a second look on the drop to Class 5 (even as high weights). It is rarer for a Class 4 runner to move up to Class 3 and stick around successfully, although the best Class 4 horses can and do.

At the risk of oversimplification, Class 1 and Class 2 runners are typically the best horses in Hong Kong, and class distinctions are fluid. A strong Class 2 field can easily resemble a G3 stakes race.

Speed and Pace

The vast majority of races in Hong Kong are tactical affairs, with genuine early paces. This makes speed figures are a powerful (and underutilized) tool when it comes to evaluating individual performances. The lone exception to this rule is the occasional route race that is completely devoid of any early pace (this year’s QEII comes to mind) – such races are rare, as the better jockeys will move aggressively to seize a tactical advantage and force the issue.

A combination of speed and pace analysis is especially useful for the following applications:

  • Evaluating class movers
  • Spotting vulnerable favorites
  • Identifying live longshots

As with almost everything in handicapping, speed figures only rarely overwhelmingly point to a single horse. However, due to their relatively low usage in Hong Kong, they can help uncover great value.

Trainers and Form

Here’s a common scenario you may come across when handicapping a race in Hong Kong: using speed figures and class analysis, you can quickly narrow down the field to a set of contenders who can win on their best effort, but are stumped when determining identifying the horse who will fire.

Spotting horses in sharp or improving form – that is, identifying horses who are sitting on their best effort – is a critical component of winning in Hong Kong, especially in Class 4 races. It is also far more an art than a science – the part of handicapping that can lead 2 horseplayers to have wildly different opinions about the same horse. Below are some of our favorite guidelines.

Look for changes that may signal that a horse is coming around. Has a horse dropped class or weights? Has he shown more speed after a string of non-efforts? Is there a jockey change to a top rider from a string of low-level apprentice?

Trainer angles also provide valuable hints. Look beyond the high level, overall win percentages and look for specific situations. For example, Caspar Fownes is tremendously successful moving talented, improving runners up in class (sometimes at valuable prices), but is less profitable on class droppers. Does the trainer have a particular go-to rider? A favorite angle is identify jockey-trainer win percentages that are much higher than either the trainer or jockey’s overall win percentage.

Finally, put yourself in the trainer’s shoes, and look at the progression of the horse’s handicapping rating over time. For example, you may notice a horse off a sharp win coming back on short rest, with a similar weight impost due to an apprentice claim. This can be a tip-off of a trainer trying to make the most of a horse in peak form.

Hong Kong Turf offers the most detailed, easily understood past performances for Hong Kong horse racing. Click here to download the race card for the current meeting!

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