HONG KONG, Sept. 1 (UPI) -- The Hong Kong Jockey Club opens its 131st season this weekend with record purses and momentum from increases in both attendance and turnover during the 2014-2015 term.
The HKJC also reports progress on its forward-looking Conghua Training Center in mainland China, which will allow for increases in the horse population and ownership, and in high-tech customer interfaces.
Reflecting its deep involvement in the international racing infrastructure, the HKJC announced it has split is Racing Division into two segments -- the Racing Business and Operations Division and the Racing Authority Division.
Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the HKJC, pointed to increases in turnover and attendance as rare in the modern racing world and a contributor to the Club's central role in the Hong Kong social fabric. During the past five seasons, he said, turnover has jumped from HK$80.4 billion (US$10.4 billion) to HK$107.9 billion (US$14 billion), resulting in charitable contributions increasing from HK$1.62 billion to HK$3.8 billion over the same period. Increase in turnover was accompanied by an 8 percent increase in attendance over five seasons, to more than 2 million in 2014-2015.
The HKJC is the largest employer, taxpayer and charitable contributor in Hong Kong.
"The attendance metric is perhaps one of the most incredible relative to our performance," Engelbrecht-Bresches said. "The competition for attention in a crowded personal entertainment marketplace is remarkable. We have more devices, more ways to be connected, and more distractions in our daily lives than at any other time in history. And yet, through all that, more people came to the races in Hong Kong in 2014-15 than at any point in the last 12 seasons."
To further that trend, the Club has earmarked more than HK$2 billion for development of new customer information and wagering systems. And Engelbrecht-Bresches said there has been "a massive increase in our commingling turnover" from other countries taking the Hong Kong simulcast signal. He predicted that trend will grow "due to Hong Kong's world-class quality."
Development of the 764-stall Conghua Training Center, he said, has proceeded despite the adverse impact of bad weather and delays in delivery of environmental assessments and remains critical to the continued progress of Hong Kong racing.
Sha Tin, which currently houses all of Hong Kong's racing stock, is at capacity with more than 1,200 horses in training and the HKJC is in the midst of a modernization program in the two- and three-story stable buildings. Because the stables are full, renovation "requires a very slow and methodical process of doing this one stable at a time, and it will likely take some time until Conghua alleviates those pressures," the CEO said.
Although the HKJC does not emphasize this aspect of the project, Conghua also represents a major "oar in the water" for the club should the Chinese government approve commercial racing on the mainland. The center could be converted to a full-scale racetrack relatively quickly and easily.