Tientsin Racing

Ferry Depot of Rulers; Race Course for Riders





Tientsin, T’ien-chin, or Tiencienwey were the former names of the municipality city nowadays known as Tianjin, a metropolis in coastal northeastern China and one of the national central cities.





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.


Many prominent names and important events in Hongkong racing related to Tientsin.

The list should include: owner Gilbert Donnay; jockeys Michael Boycott and Renee Samarcq; trainer Lee Tien-lam,,horse of China BENGAL, etc.






June, the first part of the Opium War ended in China.
1858-06-26, Several documents known as the “Treaty of Tientsin [Tianjin]” were signed.

Soon, there was the ending the first part of the Second Opium War (1856–1860).



August, it became clear that the Taipings were heading for Shanghai.

An Anglo-French force on its way to Tientsin was diverted to the defence of Shanghai, and within a week the horde was upon them.

The inclusion of Tientsin among the Treaty Ports brought the racing world a step nearer the source of griffins.

Initially a race course was founded by a manager of Dent’s (a trading company) and was called Hanna’s Course after him.



The first meeting was held in May, and despite the drawbacks it was done in style.

At the Autumn Meeting that year there were more races for ponies than for horses.

This trend continued, until after five years there were pony races only.

Besides rivaling in Hongkong business, the Tartan (Jardines) and Scarlet (Dents) stables were in full force.

Their horses simply dominated the Shanghai races, amid tremendous popular excitement.

When racing started in Tientsin, the inveterate struggle spread there too.

CHEERFUL, was last heard of at Tientsin, racing for his Jardine owner, Coll McLean.

His racing name being ‘Mr Florence’.

‘Mr Florence’, first head of Jardine’s in Tientsin and a great racing man, probably brought his entire Shanghai stable of horses and ponies there.

Hector Coll McLean was the son of a former partner in Jardine Matheson.

He himself worked for the firm on the China coast from 1855 to 1894 with only one stint of leave.

His daughter married Sir Robert Ho Tung, the Hongkong millionaire philanthropist (compradore of Jardine Matheson from 1880 to 1900).

Coll McLean is buried in the cemetery overlooking Happy Valley racecourse in Hongkong, doubtless as he would wish.



A correspondent observed that ‘Tientsin’s attempts at the national sport cannot be compared with the magnificence and importance of the grand meetings in Shanghai and Hongkong.’

Nonetheless, Tientsin was already on the look-out for the fastest pony in China.



With two other Treaty Ports, Newchwang in Liaoning province, and Chefoo on the Shantung peninsula, both in the Gulf of Chihli with easy steamer access to Tientsin.

Complimenting each other, a network of ‘Races of the North’ developed.

Owners and riders bringing their ponies to compete in ‘away’ events, or attending simply as visitors on holiday.

These were the years of the German ascendancy, particularly in the North where they were concerned with heavy industry and mines.

The Germans in Newchwang and Tientsin took an active part in racing, contributing much to the success of the sport, as did their diplomats in Peking.



The mafoos of Tientsin were not quite up to Shantung standards, but they too were good riders.

The mafoos’ races there were taken seriously, as at Chefoo.

Because the ponies were racing with men of the proper weight for them, mafoos’ races offered one of the soundest means of judging the true qualities of a pony.

Though the race still came as the last event at the end of a meeting, owners watched carefully, and drew their conclusions.

After some years of racing, Tientsin started getting ponies similar to those called ‘Shantung’, and Chefoo owners gave up buying from Laichou.

Generally, it was simpler and safer to have new ponies shipped from Tientsin, despite Tientsin owners having first choice in any new batch.

Since late in the year, the Nien-fei rebels had been plaguing the province.

That autumn they were reported to be only 80 miles from Tientsin, and they were mounted.

The races were held beside the road to Taku, a lonely and exposed place several miles from the city.

Needless to say, very few Chinese and no mandarins turned up.



At the Shanghai Autumn Meeting, Tientsin ponies and riders attended in force and had great success.

Tientsin riders seldom came to the Shanghai races in such force as this.

One of the reasons so many of them came in 1872 and 1873 concerned conditions in the Tientsin region.



There were two unallocated new ponies in Tientsin, a bay and a black, one of them required by Cornabe of Chefoo.

Two of the leading owner-riders decided to ride them in a private trial race, and keep whichever pony won.

One of the riders was Harry Hutchings, one of the few Americans in the China races, and an outstanding man.

Known as Wild Harry, he rode short stirrup to a degree never seen before in China.



Mr Moore, the manager of the Tientsin horse bazaar, went to Mongolia in person.

This was a difficult and hazardous undertaking in those times, for making his own selection of ponies.

His endeavor marked the beginning of the subscription system in Tientsin.

Prospective purchasers subscribed in equal shares.

Moore came back with 36 ponies, half for Tientsin, half for Shanghai.

From the Tientsin batch he selected one for himself, and invited the 10 subscribers to decide which they thought were the 10 best ponies.

These were then numbered and drawn by lot. The rest were kept in reserve, unsold.

The general feeling was that Moore had been pretty tough with the subscribers, though surely he had a right to be.

After 35 years of racing China ponies, a European had at last reached the source of them, bringing back invaluable knowledge.

From this time forward, others followed Mr Moore’s example every two or three years.

There was a tenuous but direct contact with the Mongolian studs, as Hongkong rather grandly described them.

Hongkong, of course, being at the end of the receiving line, had had the subscription system long before this.

From 1865, ponies in Happy Valley had been obtained in Shanghai.

They were raced as subscription griffins, and were generally regarded as inferior to owner-chosen griffins.

When selected by dealers they may have been, though surely not when selected by an expert like Moore, who was looking for the best.

Undeniably, there was an air of prejudice on this subject, arising from the fact that in the South a subscription griffin was a relatively cheap buy.



There was a serious shortage of jockeys, both there and in Peking.

Tientsin, transformed by the foreign presence, was by this time a very prosperous place, the most important commercial port in North China.

Its city population had doubled, and was over a million.

In addition to the large foreign mining interests, it had become the main place of export for China’s seemingly inexhaustible supplies of goods and live stocks.

At a meeting of the Tientsin Race Club held in March, the continental element, was led by Detring and his brother-in-law von Hanneken.

He proposed that there should in future be two races per meeting for Chinese riders.

For a number of years Chinese had been racing in the Taotai’s Cup, the Taotai insisting they must.

Otherwise he would not give a Cup; and the Taotai’s Cup was invariably one of the best races.



The race course for foreigners was very successful.

1896-04-11 Gustav Detring was credited in the editorial of the Peking and Tientsin Times:

Tientsin practically owes its race-course and so its ”only drive” to his energy and enthusiasm.



Meanwhile in Tientsin another pace-setter had made his appearance:

Gustav Detring’s SET, a chestnut, who in May won the Maidens’ Stakes, three-quarters of a mile, in 1 1/2 minutes less one-fifth of a second.

This was one-fifth of a second faster than Fritz Sommer’s MORIBUND.

This was also the exact time of David Sassoon’s HERO in Shanghai.

In the Criterion Stakes, one mile, SET beat the record set by STRAY SHOT, and put himself into the all-China record class.


August, the Allied force marched to Peking from Tianjin..

1900-07-05 Japanese soldiers occupied the Tientsin racecourse and allowed Allied forces to blow up the Chinese Arsenal on site.



Good relationship had been facilitated when the Peking-Hankow railway was completed.

The railway had a branch line to Tientsin, and there was a station less than two miles from Pao Ma Chang.

Tientsin owners and riders could bring their ponies by rail direct from Tientsin to the Peking racecourse.



Roy Davis famous jockey of Tientsin, rode the wonder-pony BENGAL to 41 wins out of 42 entries, almost certainly a world record.



Peking and Newchwang in separate positions for different reasons, race attendancy were dropped.

Major events had narrowed down to Tientsin, Shanghai, Hankow and Hongkong.

This did not imply there was less racing.

On the contrary, there was more In Tientsin, Shanghai and Hankow.

Additional clubs and courses were found, where Chinese gentlemen riders raced and where riders from European clubs were welcome.

The Schleswig Cup, Tientsin, about the largest and heaviest Cup ever presented in the China races, it was given by the Danish community in Tientsin.

That was a gesture of thanks to the British for lending support to the restoration of Schleswig-Holstein to Denmark, from Germany.

The winner in the race was a British owner with a Danish jockey.



The racing administration was managed by a matured system and model.

1922-10-05 Peking and Tientsin Times, Thursday published the announcement of cash sweeps of the Tientsin Autumn Meeting.



Peking lay off the main race circuit by virtue of its diplomatic rather than commercial atmosphere.

Its connexion with the circuit being exclusively with Tientsin.



BENGAL was purchased for the Sassoon stable in Hongkong.

At Happy Valley in February 1928 he won the Great Southern Stakes, Jimmie Pote-Hunt riding, beating BAKER’S BAY, of the almost unbeatable Lambert Dunbar stable, Buffy Maitland up.

In the Champions, however, ELLIOT BAY, pride of the Dunbar stable, was the winner, Buffy Maitland up again.

BENGAL came third.

Perhaps it was hoof trouble, as in the obscure rumour reaching Tientsin.



DIANA, a crossbreed, was another of which Baron von Delwig was proud.

51 races, the pony had never unplaced.

She raced and won often in Tientsin.



‘That was my greatest pride as a trainer,’ Andrew von Delwig commented, adding, ‘We were at our best when Leighton rode and I trained.’

An almost identical comment was made by Leo Frost, who knew them both in his Tientsin days.

The Baron greatly admired Leo Frost’s style of riding.

He said, ‘Such was his elasticity of muscular movement he could ride a finish without disturbing the horse.’

It was Andrew von Delwig, too, who pointed out that rowers make particularly good jockeys.

In that the elasticity of movement required in rowing is similar to that needed in a good rider.



The Battle of Beiping–Tianjin resulted in a Japanese victory.

1937-07-30,it came the Fall of Tianjin.



Tientsin Racecourse, 1- 1/2 miles and — note the dust — a dirt track, as all courses had to be in North China, because of the grass problem.

1938-05-07, 08, 14, 15, 21 and 22, every Saturday and Sunday were the Spring Race Meeting, at least 10 races per day from 2:30 – 6:15 p.m.

The Tientsin races continued too, though always under military guard.



For the Tientsin Spring Meeting, Stewards announced that members only and their servants (mafoos) would be allowed in.

The Russian Guards were instructed to refuse entry to all members of the public. Members were advised to wear their badges and to make sure their mafoos bore some clear form of identification.

The Tientsin Race Club had once again broken its rules to allow Michael Boycott, born and brought up in Tientsin, to race from the age of 16.

He rapidly became a popular jockey, seldom having less than three wins a day, and riding for all the best owners.



After eighteen months of blockade, floods, and political trouble with the Japanese, races were held again in Tientsin in October on three consecutive weekends.

1940-10-19, a post card depicting three white ponies in action, was using a Seno-Japanese description name for Tientsin Race-course.



The Spring Meeting of 1941 had to be postponed twice because of heavy rain.

By the time it was possible to hold it, it was mid-June, and the races were run in sweltering heat on a heavy course.

Dr R.J. Hoch’s SUPER WORLD, bred by himself, won everything he entered with ease.



Up in Tientsin there was less unreality because the situation was much plainer.

North China had been utterly wrecked by the warlords and the Japanese occupation.

Most of the leading Tientsin foreign personalities went back, took a harrowed look round, came away, and never returned.



So it ended, and it is best to leave it so.

There was racing of a kind in Hongkong afterwards.

As in Manchoukuo, the Japanese insisted that ordinary life must go on.

But such racing was rigged and dishonest.

It grounded to a halt in April, four months before the war ended.



Two maps dated and indicated that Tientsin (Tianjin) had two distinct racecourses.

The left hand one was of the Chinese racecourse, whilst the right hand one was the ‘foreigners’ racecourse.

It was said that evidence of the grandstands still exist to this day.



After the Japanese surrender, racing was held again in Happy Valley for only half of the season.

First of the champion jockey was Mr A Ostroumoff, who came to Hong Kong just before the War after a successful career in Tientsin.

By the end of the season he was leading jockey (22, 13, 10).



Andy Ostroumoff repeated his success in a roll.



Michael Boycott was among those who had gone back to Tientsin, taken a heartbroken look and left.

As a gentleman rider at Happy Valley he already numbered among his many successes.



Andy Ostroumoff was crowned as champion jockey the third time.



Michael Boycott scored a unique trophy — the Coronation Cup won on Willie Stewart’s BEN LOMOND.

At the later juncture, Boycott was Secretary to the HKJC, then ordered to be responsible for all stables administration.

His duties also included security, and ‘to undertake to raise training standards to those comparable with training establishments elsewhere.’





After the liberation, the Country Club adjoining Tientsin racecourse became the Cadres’ Club and today is a shadow of its former self.

Later, much building activity has taken place on the site of the racecourse which is ringed by high quality hotels.





1919, Marcel Renee Samarcq came to China, grew up in Tianjin and speaking Mandarin.

1923, he started to ride learning from his elder brother, Robert, who was a famous jockey in Tianjin.

Both of them had a great riding record in Peking, Tientsin and Shanghai.


1885-06-09, another Treaty of Tientsin mainly concerning Vietnam, was signed and officially ended the Sino-French War.

This one, with a proper Chinese translation as Sino-French new treaty was not the one signed earlier with the Victorian British.





Jardines – 《RacingMemories.HK》

China Racecourses – 《RacingMemories.HK》

Dents – 《RacingMemories.HK》



Acknowledgment to HKJC Racing Registry for offering relevant records.





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