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, 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!