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How to do the Hong Kong races

LUXE City Guides
  • Written by LUXE City Guides, Images by Calvin Sit

You can feel the excitement even before you reach the track. As the sun plunges below the horizon on Wednesday evening, betting parlours around the city begin to fill up in anticipation of the night’s races. Trams round the bend into Happy Valley Racecourse , flocking to the bright lights like moths to a flame.

And the lights are certainly dazzling. Dozens of high-powered lamps cast an electric glow over Hong Kong’s oldest racetrack. At ground level the hubbub of the crowd is deafened by the sound of pounding of hooves and excitable loud-speaker commentary. Happy Valley is a piece of living history that has been around for nearly as long as the city itself, and during the racing season, from September to July, its lively Wednesday night races have made it a mid-week destination, even for those who don’t have a clue how to fill out a betting slip.

How to do the Hong Kong Races

You go to the races not because you want to gamble but because you want to soak in the environment

“You go to the races not because you want to gamble but because you want to soak in the environment,” says Yan Tam, a designer who occasionally visits the track with her friends. Her father is a racing devotee, but she goes mainly for the atmosphere and live entertainment. “It’s really nice to see all the grass on the track, all the open space — and the race is added excitement.”

Like milk tea and double-decker buses, horse racing is a remnant of Hong Kong’s past era that is so deeply ingrained in everyday life it can be easy to forget just how remarkable it is. Although the sport is popular around the world, few places take it to heart like Hong Kong. The Happy Valley Racecourse was built in 1845, four years after British troops landed on Hong Kong Island. At first, racing was a decidedly British preoccupation, but as the years progressed it became increasingly popular with the local Chinese community. The sport is so popular that there’s even a dedicated museum and private behind-the-scenes tours available at Happy Valley, as well as tours at the more modern Sha Tin Racecourse , which opened in 1978.

It’s more like an entertainment track...You can see all the highrises everywhere — it’s a beautiful backdrop.

K.L. Cheng

When K.L. Cheng began working at the racecourse in the 1970s, he remembers how the horses were marched every day from stables on the slopes above Happy Valley down to the race ground. “I could see the horses walking down the hill, across the tramway, to do their exercises,” he says. “It was a very steep road so they had to put on special shoes to go down, otherwise it would be very slippery.”

Cheng is now the Jockey Club’s Head of Dual Site Stables Operations and Owners Services, with an office overlooking the Sha Tin Racecourse. Sha Tin affords a more local atmosphere, attracting in-the-know punters and hosting the city’s more high-level races, but Happy Valley still attracts legions of racegoers. “It’s more like an entertainment track,” says Cheng. “You can see all the high-rises everywhere — it’s a beautiful backdrop.”

Die-hard racing fans

These days, the scene on a Wednesday evening is ebullient. Die-hard racing fans watch with rapt attention from the grandstands, but next to the track, the scene is more social. An after-work crowd enjoys al fresco drinks and a steady stream of events including German beer for Oktoberfest and Japanese food and saké in November. Another popular event at Happy Valley is the annual Hong Kong International Jockeys’ Championship in December.

How to do the Hong Kong Races

When the horses come by, your adrenaline pumps up. You cheer for your horse, you yell their number or their name and they flash past before your eyes. It’s a rush.

How to do the Hong Kong Races

Further north at the Sha Tin Racecourse are a number of other prestigious events, including the Hong Kong International Races in December, and the particularly special Chinese New Year Race Day on the third day of Lunar New Year. The spring races soon follow, bringing the Hong Kong Derby in March and Champions Day in April. And if none of these races fit your schedule, you’re sure to find another in the racing calendar, which is packed with events that ensure plenty of opportunity to win big.

Want to take part in the betting action? It’s as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. Superstitions dictate that gamblers should wear red — especially red underwear — to ensure their luck. If you’re on a winning streak, be sure not to wash your hands, but a thorough soap and scrub could change your fortunes if you are hard up. 

How to do the Hong Kong Races

Sometimes your selection can be as simple as picking the horses whose names you like, such as Win Bright, Beauty Generation or Superich, among other equine creatures with fanciful names. “It’s just a bit of fun,” says Yan Tam. “When the horses come by, your adrenaline pumps up. You cheer for your horse, you yell their number or their name and they flash past before your eyes. It’s a rush.” 

Whether you select your horses by name or by knowledge, once you’ve made your pick there is a mind-boggling array of ways in which you can place your bets, but the two simplest are either in person at the race course counters, where staff are on hand to help you complete the slip, or via the Jockey Club’s app, ‘Racing Touch’. Good luck!

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