Easts And Wests
Former HKJC Chairman P G Williams once said that:
“whereas Hongkong racing scene is famous throughout the sporting world, very few people today realize that Hongkong’s racing traditions stem from nearly 200 years of racing, in Macao, Peking, Shanghai, Tientsin, Hankow, Amoy.”
Hands And Heels
Then, it was amateur racing. Millionaires rode their own horses, or watched their sons race for them.
The financial scale of it is without parallel in the annals of amateur racing.
So it was far from amateur, as too in matters of horsemanship, in which standards were of the highest.
Just before the Revolution of 1911 Chinese joined the racing fray, with the same high standards of sportsmanship and expertise.
The races were held in a large open square, artificially levelled, in front of the church of Sao Domingos in the heart of the attractive little Portuguese city of which governance was then already eighty years old.
1842 Hong Kong:
Afterward, a few records mentioning race enthusiasts held a meeting on a very small course in the Pokfulam area, on the west side of Hongkong Island.
This area is so mountainous, with so little flat land, that it almost passes belief that even a very small course could be formed.
Yet from this event the Hongkong races were to be numbered and dated.
Nothing is known about the meeting except that it took place in that year.
“There are great preparations making at Hongkong for a race meeting to come off in the beginning of next month.
Sir J. Davis has given a cup of $200!!! for which Joseph & I have decided to start SAINT ANDREW,
as we think it would be a pity that he should leave China without one trial for the object for which he was more immediately sent on.
Joseph says he has got him into splendid order. Joseph is jockey;
we shall send him home to you in January or February by the first good ship & Captain that offers.”
1848-04-17 and 18, a surviving clipping from the Japan Gazette, in the possession of Mr J. F. Macgregor, mentions the inaugural race meeting in Shanghai.
Daoguang 30th, five British merchants W Hogg, T D Gibb, Langley, W W Pakin, E Webb self appointed as directors of the founding Shanghai Race Club.
They built the first racecource named ‘Old Park’ near the Nánjīng East Road and Hénán Middle Road.with area of 731.52 meter.
1851, Shanghai ran the first of the seven Inaugural race meetings.
Peking races were started by the student-interpreters of the British Legation and the Imperial Maritime Customs.
1863-12-17, Thursday, the races were held on the Anting plain north of the city.
All the Ministers, even a missionary, indeed everybody, turned up.
At the following April meeting more than 50,000 people came, the largest gathering yet seen at a China race-meeting.
Thus it continued, with ever more and more attending.
As was said at the time, the crowds at the Peking races would be beyond the imagination of people in Europe and America.
These were the largest race-meetings in the world.
1866, April, the races moved to a new venue six miles out from the west wall of the city.
A site surrounded by low hillocks or mounds on which crowds larger than ever seen before gathered.
It was impossible to make even a vague estimate of how many tens of thousands of people were there.
The weather was glorious, the enormous Peking sky a deep blue. The course was larger.
Edward Bowra, of the Imperial Maritime Customs, described the racecourse area as ‘a dirty little hole of a town with about six Europeans and a hostile population of half a million.
But a good pony cost only £8, or $40, with $5 a month for a mafoo and another $5 for fodder.
Thus for £2 a month I have a luxury which at home would cost me £100 a year.’
This may have been the pony he wrote of two years later when he won a steeplechase in Peking.
The Chefoo Race Club was formed in March.
When its chairman, Detmering of the Customs, announced a race-meeting for May, when the weather would be perfect.
There was an immediate response from Tientsin.
Racing started in the foreign Yangtze settlements of Kiukiang and Hankow in April.
The meetings were arranged so that residents could attend each other’s races.
The main feature of which was competition between the Kiukiang and Hankow stables.
Racing started while the city was under Anglo-French military government.
An account of 1865 describes the arrangements:
A racecourse is formed annually upon the site of paddy-fields leased for the purpose after the harvest, and pony races are held in January.
The most probable venue of these meetings was somewhere out in the fields towards White Cloud Mountain, some three miles from the city.
After the resumption of Chinese civil government, all went well for a time.
The first race meeting, held in January 1868 at the Tartar Camp, was a tremendous success.
Every European lady in the place turned up, together with all the mandarins and all the consuls.
Foochow being the provincial capital, mandarins were numerous.
1905-10-18, the inaugural race-meeting was held and was an all-German affair conducted strictly on English lines.
It had many of the usual features, a 1 1/2 mile Derby and a Champions’ race.
The Commissioner of Customs sponsored a race, as did the compradores.
The largest field was 10, the average 6.
The Kailan Mining Administration, a combination of Chinese and British mining interests, was formed.
The first executive head of it was Major Edward Nathan, RE.
Within months, and with his encouragement, racing started at T’angshan — spelt Tongshan in those days.
The Kailan Mining Administration’s largest arena of operations, and which became one of China’s major industrial cities.
Though the Tongshan races were not on the official China race circuit, for a number of years they were popular in the North.
Tongshan was the halfway point on the railway between Tientsin and Pei-tai-ho.
The latter is a seaside resort patronized by foreigners of all nationalities from Peking and Tientsin.
During the Great War so too did diplomats and others from Peking, when Pao Ma Chang was closed.
In November, the most intriguing of the off-circuit races were those of Chungking.
Under joint Chinese and British auspices, the Honan Race Club was formed, again in a mining area.
The correspondent of the North-China Daily News observed, ‘The scheme is doing more to cement friendship with our Chinese friends than columns of newspaper articles.’
This prompted the gifted Russian cartoonist Georges Sapajou to depict two robed Chinese and a portly English racing gentleman being introduced to each other by a horse.
The Honan Race Club’s course was at Chiao-tso, north of the Yellow River, within striking distance of the Lifeng mines and the Peking-Hankow railway.
The reply was that a griffin which had once come under Starter’s orders could not again race as a griffin,
and a pony which had run on an unregistered course was not eligible to race in Hong Kong.
One of the best of them was a pony called Hulan, a winner of more than twenty races in Harbin, and sold for Yen 3,500.
Besides Harbin, he said, there were also clubs at Mukden and Dairen where races were regularly held.
Would participation in a trotting race disqualify a pony for racing in Hong Kong?
He was informed that no pony which had taken part in any form of racing at a meeting of an unrecognised club was eligible for Hong Kong.
Here, then, is an unusual chapter of racing history, worth rescuing before it passes into oblivion.
A published list of recognized race clubs in China gave the following:
Hong Kong Jockey Club
Hankow Recreation and Race Club
Tientsin Race Club
Peking Race Club
Hankow Chinese Race Club
Chihli Race Club (Nankai)
International Race and Recreation Club Peking
Tongshan Race Club
Tsingtao International Recreation Club
The Macao Jockey Club
Newchwang Race Club
Hankow International Race Club
Acknowledgement to HKJC Racing Registry for offering record data.