Wednesday nights in Hong Kong are racing nights, where the locals (and so it seemed more tourists) flock to the Happy Valley racecourse, a 10 minute tram ride from Causeway Bay MTR station. Built over 150 years ago, it’s become almost hemmed in by skyscrapers in the last 30 years, and they provide a spectacular backdrop to the course. This also means it’s one of the few racecourses in the world which is truly in the city centre.
Being the only legalised form of gambling in Hong Kong, everyone at the course seems to be having a bet. We only made measly 10HKD wagers (about £1), but saw discarded betting slips of thousands of dollars! Their official website says that one night’s racing can often match an entire years betting at Western race tracks, but I suppose people in Hong Kong are driven by making (and presumably here, losing too) money so it’s mere childsplay to them.
After paying a 10HKD entry fee, you’re immediately at trackside, surrounded by bars, bookies and McDonalds. An enormous seven-tier grandstand lines the finishing straight and looms fantastically overhead, whilst big screens have the latest odds and the cameras focused on the horses, and speakers shout out commentary and tips for the next race. The grass is lush and a green only rivalled in colour in my memory by the first day of the season at Selhurst Park.
Picking up a brochure of the day’s runners and riders, you look at the form and condition of the horses before picking the one with the best name or the prettiest jersey to spend your 10 dollars on. Betting slip in hand, you wait for the horses to enter the stalls before spending the next few minutes squinting in vain at the big screen for the numbers of the leaders, following the horses round the bends before screaming at what may or may not be your horse to get a bloody move on as they thunder down the home straight before more squinting at the big screen to see that the horse you thought was yours was actually someone else’s, and that yet again that’s 10 (or many thousands) of dollars down the drain. You never see a poor bookie!