Teenagers under the age of 18 very rarely get the chance to enter the race track in Happy Valley – but our junior reporters went to visit the Hong Kong Racing Museum and were given permission to explore the racecourse as they looked at the history behind the city’s horse-racing scene.
A life-size model of River Verdon
The colonisation of Hong Kong brought a great number of British influences to the city, among them was European-style horse racing. The Hong Kong Jockey Club was founded in 1884. There are about 1,000 horses (that are divided into five different classes depending on their win/lose ratio) and more than 20 jockeys in Hong Kong at the moment. The second track is at Sha Tin.
Previously, women were banned from being professional jockeys and even now it’s not a popular sport for women. Jockey Kei Chiong Ka-kei, the first local woman to ride here in 15 years, is already a notable name in Hong Kong’s horse-racing history.
The museum boasts an impressive life-size model of River Verdon – one of the most famous horses in Hong Kong’s racing history. He was the first horse to win the Hong Kong Triple Crown and scored 16 wins out of 38 starts.
The huge impact horse racing has had on life in Hong Kong can be seen from the archive of Annual Race Meeting programmes, which were beautifully printed with paintings on their silk covers. Another notable exhibit is the racing journals that were published in the 1950s, which contained tips about horse-racing events.
Cherry Ng, Michelle Jetton and Yam Wai-shan
Making our own silks
We wrapped up the visit with a racing colours T-shirt workshop.
Each horse owner has their own unique racing silk (a shirt) for jockeys to wear during a race.
The racing silk is a very important element in the race, as it allows spectators to easily identify one horse and rider from another when they are out on the turf.
Racing silks are very colourful, with a minimum of two to a maximum of four colours on their tops. The designs are permanent, which means that they will follow the owners and their horses throughout their lifetime.
We were given the chance to design our very own racing silk on a T-shirt. There were a limited amount of designs and colours that we could choose from, and we weren’t allowed to draw other things onto the T-shirt apart from what was given to us.
We spent about an hour working on our T-shirt, and it was really fun.
We really enjoyed our visit, and we feel lucky to have had the chance to get a behind-the-scenes look into the Happy Valley Racecourse – even visiting places which are normally open only to the current jockeys.
It gave us a better understanding of the history and running of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the horse-racing legacy left behind by the British colonial rulers.
The visit helped us understand the importance of horse racing in Hong Kong’s development, as well as the Jockey Club’s heavy involvement in many of the city’s schools and arts centres.
Veronica Lin and Tiffany Ip
Changing rooms – not what you’d think!
When you think of a sports changing room, you normally think of a mess, sweat and a lot of steam – but that’s not the case here.
The jockeys’ changing room was immaculate, with lockers that looked impractically small – definitely not big enough to store a gym bag.
We discovered that the lockers are designed for mobile phones – every jockey has to put their phones into them when they enter the room.
This ensures that the jockeys can’t communicate with anyone outside of the race, and helps prevent people from getting insider tips or finding out what the strategies in the race might be.
Each jockey has their own locker with their names on them, and we saw some famous jockey names like Matthew Chadwick and João Moreira.
We saw a few helmets hanging here and there, and we came across a door at the back of the changing room. This door leads to a room where all the racing silks, which are the shirts that the jockeys wear, are stored. One racing silk is provided to each horse owner, and no other horse owner can use the same silk. A racing silk must have at least two different colours.
We decided to follow in the footsteps of what a jockey goes through after they have left the changing room – and we headed to the weigh-in room, which we had not heard of before. This room is where the Jockey Club staff will go to when they need to check the weight carried by jockeys, to ensure that everything is in order before the riders enter the arena.
Why do the jockeys need to be weighed, I can almost here you asking. There is a special racing rule that states the stronger a horse is, the more weight the horse and the rider must carry. If a jockey and his horse keep winning races, more weights are added, which provides a measure of competitiveness and makes the playing field more equal for the other riders. The extra weight is added by inserting flat pieces of metal lead into the saddle and the jockey’s vest.
This was surprising to us JRs. A lot of people don’t think of horse racing as a difficult sport, or a particularly athletic one for the jockeys, but it turns out it really is.
Snehaa Senthamilselvan and Christy Cheung