Impressions of the Hong Kong International Races

The more I learn about horse racing, the more global I realize it is. Name the country, there’s probably horse racing there. The sport maintains a sort of fluidity between different cultures. You don’t have to speak the same language to appreciate the impeccable breeding that has shaped the thoroughbred body into a smoothly-muscled, aerodynamic running machine.

My obsession, as of late, has been with the Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin Racecourse. While I should be studying, I’ve been shamelessly stalking the #HKIR social media team, a group of prominent racing personalities invited by the Hong Kong Jockey Club to provide coverage of the event. All I can say is ‘life goals.’ I would love for that to be me someday, because the experience they had was clearly second-to-none.

Because of the time zone difference, American racing enthusiasts must stay up into the wee hours of the night to catch the races at Sha Tin. But that didn’t keep me from tuning in after watching the movie Elf last Saturday night.

I was impressed, to say the least. I think the Breeders’ Cup is an absolutely wonderful event that showcases the nation’s finest racehorses, as well as representatives from other countries. But Breeders’ Cup still paled in comparison to the pomp and circumstance of the Hong Kong International Races.

I’ll start with the coverage. I would like to say that NBC does a fantastic job of covering the Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown races. But in all honesty, I was disappointed this year. Of all the fantastic horses in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic (obviously highlighted by American Pharoah), the camera was either zoomed in on AP, AP’s connections, or one of the race analysts. There was very little variety and you hardly got to look at the entire field of horses.

Now that’s just one example, but that wasn’t the case at all with HKIR. The live cast on the Hong Kong Jockey Club website was fantastic, and remained centered on the horses rather than the people. Because it is called horse racing for a reason.

From the paddock to the track, the camera panned from horse to horse, giving each contender equal camera time and allowing viewers to thoroughly scan the fields of fine horseflesh. I appreciated the voice-over from analysts giving their opinions on the races, and it wasn’t so jabber-y that it overpowered the listener’s attention and detracted from the beautiful sights of the track.

And it certainly was a sight to see. First and foremost, the horses, and second of all, just the track itself. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve visited a few nice tracks in my day, and Saratoga, for one, is pretty dang amazing. But Sha Tin has this modern-chic vibe going for it. And despite the lack of presence of horses from the U.S. in the HKIR – Green Mask and Mongolian Saturday were the sole American representatives, and both ran in the Hong Kong Sprint – the event still had a very international vibe.

Even though I was only watching a live feed, the entire event felt like a celebration. And something about that made it feel big and important. It had this ‘watch me’ appeal that I think the sport has been seeking to pin-point. If horse racing could channel this at other big racing events, I think it would help the industry compete with other sports for viewer attention.

The trophy presentation was an incredibly big deal at HKIR, with a stage set up right on the turf course. A band played the national anthem of the country represented by the winning horses, who were draped in all sorts of grand-looking Longines-emblazoned apparel.

Sadly, the reception at our house is spotty and the live stream was cut off about half way through the event. But I was still able to watch Highland Reel’s brilliant win in the Hong Kong Vase, and Peniaphobia hold off Gold-Fun in the Sprint.

Truly a spectacular event. I can’t wait for the day I get to attend it in person.


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