Only 400 people will be allowed to attend this coming weekend’s dual Gr1 card at Sha Tin as the Jockey Club acquiesces to a government demand to further reduce crowds at Hong Kong race meetings.
Just trainers, jockeys, key personnel and horse owners with runners will be admitted on course for the next three meetings – on 12, 16 and 19 February – to help prevent any further spreading of the coronavirus.
It means only two rooms will be open at Happy Valley on Wednesday night and those who do turn up will be subjected to temperature screening while being advised to wear medical masks. There will be no cross-betting at the opposing track.
Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges says the measures are necessary in the current environment and enforcing them as requested is the only way to ensure racing continues.
“We think that by having 400 people or less on track means there is minimal risk of spreading the virus,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
“With 700,000 to 800,000 fans watching our races on TV, it helps keep people at home rather than out on the streets and therefore helps to contain the situation.
“We really think it is important to keep racing and provide a source of entertainment in these circumstances. If we stop racing, it is likely we won’t be back for about three months.”
These moves come after the Jockey Club has already closed all 101 of its off-course betting branches and nine of its Telebet lines. Automated and online services are still running.
Unsurprisingly, turnover continues to take huge hits, with Saturday’s Sha Tin meeting down HK$410 million (R800 million) on last year’s corresponding fixture to HK$1.166 billion (R2.26 billion).
A partial lockout has been in place since the Lunar New Year fixture on 27 January and it continues to be tightened.
There are two Group 1 races scheduled for Sunday’s card – the Hong Kong Gold Cup featuring Exultant while stars Beauty Generation and Beat The Clock will go head-to-head in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup.
- South China Morning Post