60 Years Later, And The Game Returns

by Ed Meyer

posted on November 30, 2008 in News | No Comments >>

A BREAKTHROUGH will be made this weekend, when the first commercial horse racing event in mainland China, since the Communists took power in 1949, takes place in the central city of Wuhan.

Riders will compete for a total of 120,000 yuan ($11,445) in prize money in four test runs in a newly-built 30,000-seat track to be called Orient Lucky City. The Beijing Evening Post said, Wuhan will act as a central base for racing in China, much in the same way that Newmarket is regarded as ‘Headquarters’ in Britain.

State news agency Xinhua first reported earlier this year that the Chinese government was considering legalizing gambling on horse races, starting with trials in Wuhan, which also acted as a center for horse racing in the early part of the 20th century.

But this weekend, all the studies will finally come to fruition at the landmark meeting, with strictly-limited betting available to racegoers, with only prizes other than cash to offer.

Horse racing reappeared in the early 1990s after being listed among a string of vices, together with gambling in general, and prohibited when the Communists won the Chinese civil war in 1949.

Betting on horse races could be a business that produces 3 million jobs and generates 40 billion yuan ($3.8 billion) in tax revenues each year, if given the go-ahead.

Betting on horses is already extremely popular, and legal, in the former British territory of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The horse races will be held twice a week with five to seven races each time, said Wang Shenshun, vice director of the Wuhan Sports Administrative Bureau at a news conference. “This is a trial operation for China to commercialize horse racing,” he said.

Individuals or groups can apply for horse racing club memberships and invest in raising horses.

Orient Lucky City is more than 1 million square meters and is the biggest horse breeding base in the country, with a capacity of 2,000 horses. “Equipment in Wuhan is not worse than in Hong Kong,” an official with the Orient Lucky City said. “The only difference is the course in Hong Kong is made of grass while the one in Wuhan is sand.”

Wuhan was once a center for horse racing in the early 1900s, where foreign and Chinese businessmen developed the top three racecourses in the country. After being banned on the mainland in 1949, it only reappeared in the early 1990s after national races were organized and jockey clubs set up.