Tatler's Guide To Being Conversant: Patrick Kwok On Horse Racing
What’s the best way to get into horse racing?
Some people think horse racing is getting a bit outdated. However, it’s quite easy to get hooked. Whether you’re buying a horse or just gambling, you need to be interested in the sport first. The easiest way is to find a horse and start following it. Start by watching races: the Jockey Club has the best website. You can watch all the past race videos, as well as [videos about] the history of racing.
How long is a horse’s career?
It could be anything from one race—some horses never race, even ones that might have cost HK$10 million, if you’re an unlucky owner—up to a maximum of seven years, but usually around three or four. A horse is heavy and their legs aren’t that big so it’s easy for them to get injured. Australia and England get a lot of rain during the racing season, so the ground is a lot softer than Hong Kong. It’s like running wearing Nikes over there, but barefoot here, as the ground is harder. In England, the horses are used to lots of grass and farms; in Hong Kong, there’s just the Jockey Club. But the club has invested a lot in China, and there’s a farm there where horses go to rest and train.
How do you buy a horse?
When you join the Jockey Club, they give you lots of information on how to buy a horse, including a list of qualified agents. Horse racing involves a lot of luck. Even if you have plenty of experience, mistakes still happen. It’s not about how many races the horse has won; it’s about who it has beaten, as it might have won against not very good horses. Horse racing isn’t very transparent in lots of ways so, like betting, it’s about gut feeling.
What are the breeds to look for?
In Hong Kong, breed isn’t the most important thing. In Australia, the UK or Japan, people will pay a lot for the breed because you need a stallion who keeps making other good horses. There isn’t a lot of space in Hong Kong for horses to run wild and go crazy, so most are geldings (castrated) and can’t breed any more. The big money factor—buying a good breed and breeding horses—is gone in Hong Kong.
Should you go into racing for money?
If you’re a horse owner, you know it’s not about investment: it’s fun, it’s pride, it’s a game, it’s a journey. Gambling might be an investment if you’re a professional but owning a horse isn’t really a business unless you’re very lucky. What mistakes do people make when buying horses? There are lots of little details about buying a horse. See who is selling the horse: if a big owner or trainer is selling it, be careful, as it might mean there’s not a lot left in the horse, and if you’re paying big money, there might not be a lot to improve on if a very good guy already owns it. It’d be like Warren Buffett selling stocks.
Are there any no-nos within the horse racing community?
Horse racing is a friendly sport and it’s hard to offend people. But if you have a winning ticket and you think you know who is going to win, don’t always be so sure. There will always be someone willing to bet with you. If you lose, it’ll be a bit awkward. Just have fun and relax with friends or family.
What are the most important events to know?
The International Jockeys’ Championship, usually late in the year, brings horses to race from all over the world. There’s a great prize and your national anthem is played if you win. It’s an amazing feeling: Hong Kong versus the world. There’s also the Hong Kong Derby, which is only for Hong Kong horses. Each horse is only allowed to race once in its lifetime, when it is aged four. The prize money is huge.
See also: Tatler's Guide To Being Conversant
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