Gymkhana (Hindi: जिमख़ाना, Bengali: জিমখানা, Urdu: جِمخانہ) is an Indian term which originally referred to a place of assembly. The meaning then altered to denote a place where skill-based contests were held.
1890, The golfers built their pavilion immediately opposite the Monument (where HKJC Museum now and the Happy Valley – Ngo Keng Kaifong headquarters used to be) and had two greens outside the race-track.
Later they objected to extension of the Jockey Club’s holding in that direction.
The dispute was composed: but the Golf Club was always in the Jockey Club’s way, it forestalled a plan proposed by a founding of Gymkhana Committee to make a Polo ground inside the course.
The winners received trophies, but the Pari-mutuel and Cash Sweeps operated, and the gymkhanas were immediately popular.
The ponies participating, however, did not at first include many of the Annual elite.
1895-04-20, for its first year the Gymkhana Committee reported that its season opened with a Sky Meeting.
It was not very auspiciously, owing to very wet weather. Five more Meetings followed.
Very little gate money was received, all members of the Jockey Club being admitted free!
1895 the Club had a good year. The new grandstand was damaged by a typhoon, but the overdraft was reduced.
There is a reference in the minutes to maintenance of a “steeplechase course,” presumably an adaptation by the Gymkhana Committee.
1898, among the surviving race books, the earliest Meeting mentioned is the Annual Races.
The weather was again bad and only four gymkhanas were held.
1898-07-02, the meeting had to be postponed twice.
1898-09-03, at another, some events took so long that the programme could not be completed —
so some were held over until the following Saturday, when extra races were added to make an afternoon’s sport.
1899-04-17, Hong Kong was greatly enlarged by the lease of the New Territories.
Advantage was not taken of this, however, for many years.
1903 onwards, the Gymkhana members assembled twice a year in general meeting -— a reform which was abandoned, as not convenient, fifty years later.
Officially, each Meeting was of three days only, with ten or eleven races per day;
but there was always a fourth day, the “Off Day”, usually the following Saturday afternoon.
Those Gymkhana meetings, when, except for one or two official races, all events were of consolation value, and post entry.
Neither the Off Day results nor the Gymkhana results appeared in the subsequent Appendices.
1908, at the first half-yearly meeting, the Chairman was able to report with much pleasure that the Gymkhana Club was now contributing to the funds ($500).
The “Sale of Tickets” revenue had reached a new record, $35,055.
The Club spent $58,000 on new buildings, but had a credit balance of $262.
1906, the evergreen Colonel Dowbiggin arrived and started ridding in Hong Kong for over fifty years.
1918 to 1920, Colonel Dowbiggin was Hon. Secretary of the Gymkhana Club.
1918-02-26 was the great fire. The Gymkhanas were resumed in April, but the attendances were not large.
1919 Annual was the performance of a pony named SWALLOW, owned and ridden by the French Consul, M. Paul Kremer.
Lining up for the start of the Jockey Cup on the second day, the hard-mouthed SWALLOW bolted and went round the course twice before the mafoos could block him.
Full of running still, he got off well and won the race comfortably, to pay $66.70.
At a Gymkhana Meeting some months later, the same pony, with the same rider, bolted again; but this time finished third.
One Hong Kong person grateful to Mr Johnstone was an Australian Chinese girl.
The stranger borrowed a pony and turned up at the practices on the Polo Ground at Causeway Bay.
She was a farmer’s daughter from North Queensland, rode astride and managed her pony in manly fashion.
She had no partner, so Mr Johnstone took her over the course.
Unfortunately, the Gymkhana was called off for lack of entries.
1921-03-18, an associated change was the disappearance of the Gymkhana Club.
Its existence ended after some 26 years.
HKJC took over the Saturday afternoon Meetings and calling them Extra Meetings.
But the naming of Gymkhana still carried on for many years afterwards.
In 1922, for the visit of the Prince of Wales a special gymkhana was held on April 7.
The Prince arrived at 4.25 p.m. and was there to see “The Prince of Wales Stakes”, the start of which was held back for him.
Another event was the “Renown Stakes”, for the Prince’s ship, H.M.S. Renown.
1923, A stable that expanded rapidly after it was founded in 1917 was that of Mr A. H. Carroll, every pony a “LEAF”.
He had as many as 10 in some years. His stable flourished notably until 1925.
His best was the great FERNLEAF, which had a long and successful career.
He won the Gymkhana Cup and Autumn Champions.
The Cup was a valuable trophy and worthy of treasuring. The Japanese thought so too when they took it in 1942.
The Gymkhana Club was now contributing $3,000 annually.
Shortly, the term “Gymkhana” was abandoned again.
All Saturday afternoon Meetings were thereafter called “Extra Meetings”.
Thus all the Hong Kong racing became “official”.
For that year there were seven Extra Meetings, but gradually the number was extended; and some became two-day Meetings.
A notable feature, inherited from the gymkhanas, was the Aggregate Stakes.
It was a mile event at catch weights (10 st. 6 lbs.) for a Cup to be run for five times and to be won on a 4-2-1 allotment of points.
1942-02-18, a “Gymkhana” was proposed, as a “trial run”.
But when the day arrived the affair became a mere “walk past”, 26 ponies participating.
1942-04-25 and 1942-04-26, after two postponements, a two-day programme was presented.
Three Gymkhana Meetings a month were promised, the profits to be devoted entirely to charity.
Instructions made by the Stewards of the Jockey Club, complementary to and have the same force and effect as the Rules of Racing, and are subject to the definition of words and phrases provided by those Rules of Racing.
Inst. 26. Unrecognised Meeting
(1) Shows, sports meeting, gymkhanas and such like gatherings where the programme includes a race or races for horses are unrecognised meetings and entail perpetual disqualification under the Rules of Racing on all horses taking part and disqualification for twelve months from the date of the meeting on all owners, trainers, riders and Officials.