(Courtesy of http://www.fasttrack.hk)
By Jenny Bridle
The social event for the international horse racing crowd on Friday night was the Longines Hong Kong International Races Gala Dinner held at the new Hong Kong Convention Centre in Wanchai. Here, Frankie Dettori, who won the 2015 Investec Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Golden Horn, was presented with the World’s Best Jockey award.
The Gala was a star-studded equine affair with more than a few evening gowns and heels, tiaras and tennis bracelets. Beyond all the glitz and was a veritable sea of dark-coloured suits punctuated by the owners of Breeders Cup winner Mongolian Saturday looking exotic, resplendent and very proud in their Mongolian deels and the presence of the HKIR United Nations of Racing Ambassadors in their representative national finery.
In the reception hall, the four Longines trophies were displayed in cases at the centre of it all and at cardinal points to the rather “dressagey” looking Longines Blue Horse. A racing-themed light show was projected onto one of the huge screens that served as a backdrop to the sequin-gowned jazz singer and her band. All around the room were larger-than-life photo displays of the Longines Ambassadors, Simon Baker and Aaron Kwok.
All was large and spectacular including each place setting which included multiple glasses and so much cutlery that you thanked your mother for spending time teaching you which piece is to be used each course. The food was delicious and the dinner guests very friendly.
As is customary here – and often the custom back home in Canada – we all exchanged business cards as we sat down together. This is how one learns that the gracious lady to your left is positively bursting with the joy of momentous family news. She and her husband were just returning from the hospital where their son and his wife had welcomed a set of twin girls just hours before. She shared the minute-by-minute photos and video clips stored on her phone and was clearly feeling elevated in stature now that she had become a grandmother for the first time.
Hong Kong String Orchestra founder, acclaimed violinist Jue Yao, dressed in a floor length hot pink gown, provided the superb musical opening to the dinner. When she joined our table, she proved to be a warm and very friendly dinner guest.
We talked of horses and racing, and although she said she knew little about horse racing and never gambled, we discovered that when she had trained in Chicago years ago, she had been taken to Arlington Racetrack on more than one occasion. She asked if every place had a Jockey Club like the HKJC that had such a large impact on the community from a charitable perspective, which is how we got to chatting about her American racing experience. And this – her mention of the HKJC Charities Trust – is a fact of Hong Kong racing that is sometimes talked about but usually merely as a footnote to rest of the Club’s achievements: unparalleled integrity, massive turnover, and world class jockeys and horses. More should be made of this integral part of the Club and what it means not just for Hong Kong but also for the racing world.
Even a brief look at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust shows that this is a very busy and significant organization donating on average HK$1.8 billion (approximately US$235m) to the community every year. The Trust is the largest community contributor in Hong Kong and supports a wide variety of projects in several areas including community services, education, health and sports & culture and assists more than 100 charitable organizations on an annual basis. Approved charitable contributions in 2014 totaled more than HK$3.6b and helped 168 community projects and charities.
In these contributions, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust lists several areas of focus. These are healthy living, volunteering, fostering possibilities, positive aging and elderly care, emergency and poverty relief, rehabilitations services, youth development, sports and games development, promoting arts &; culture, and job creation and preservation.
The Charities Trust has funded many projects and initiatives, including for example the equestrian events and venues for the 2008 Beijing Games and the 2010 Asian Games. Currently, the Trust’s largest project is the conversion of the Hong Kong Central Police Station Compound, which includes the Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison, into an art and heritage centre.
This centre has been named Tai Kwun after the colloquial name used in the past by police officers and the public when referring to the police station. Work on Tai Kwun began in earnest in 2007 and will be a mix of 16 restored heritage buildings along with several new additions whose design has been inspired by the site’s original brickwork.
Restoration and adaptation of the Tai Kwun buildings is a massive undertaking for the HKJC and its Charities Trust through The Jockey Club CPS Limited, a not for profit company created by the HKJC specifically for this purpose.
While at the Longines Gala our table did not discuss this project specifically, but Jue spoke of the Charities Trust and how much it had helped, and continues to help musicians in Hong Kong. She asked if North American tracks and Clubs made the same kinds of community contributions. I explained how tracks are privately owned in the US and often profit driven, such as Arlington, which we talked about and which is now part of the publicly traded CDI Inc. This doesn’t mean there are no charitable efforts in racing in North America but charity on the scale of the HKJC and its Trust? Many tracks have charitable causes they support but on the scale of the HKJC? We read of $10k here or a few thousand there, a drive for the food bank, donations for things like cancer research but in the end, the comparative answer to the question is: “Not even close.” And, in some cases, it is only since governments have intervened and put pressure on tracks to justify their overt reliance on moneys generated by other on-track gaming revenues, such as slots, that some tracks have even developed a minimal “caring” attitude.
Aside from being an intrinsically great thing to do, racing organizations around the world who do not give back at the same level as the HKJC could learn form their example: its very long history of contributing so generously to the community of Hong Kong is one of the reasons why racing is supported so strongly here — some may not like horse racing or approve of gambling but it’s hard to argue against it in the face of what the HKJC gives back to the community through its Charities Trust.