Day At The Track

Trotting in Macau

02:22 AM 21 Oct 2008 NZDT
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Addington Raceway
Addington Raceway - a far cry from Macau

In August 1980 the first full-scale harness racing operation in Asia was launched at the Portuguese-governed colony of Macau, some 60 kilometres south-east of Hong Kong on the South-east Asia coast. The brainchild of Wealthy Chinese businessman and Gambler Yip Hon, the Macau Trotting Club was formed on a private-enterprise basis by a consortium comprising Yip Hon and colleagues.

It took the best part of 10 years negotiation with the Macau Government, three years of construction and some $US40 Million before operations could commence.

In 1970 the Macau Trotting Club was admitted as a member of the World Trotting Council. Former New Zealand Noel Simpson (resident of New South Wales from the Mid-1960s) served as technical consultant to the consortium in those aspects of the enterprise in which he was experienced. Acknowledged as ‘Down Under's Mr Trotting', Simpson in the early 1960s led the group which established trotting at Prestatyn in Wales. That venture had little success before eventually foundering after Simpson's group had sold out to a company headed by Welshman Albert Gubay: but this was no reflection on Simpson who toiled hard against impossible odds to boost the status of the trotting sport in the United Kingdom.

As in Wales, there were to be problems aplenty for trotting at Macau. But despite the Macau Venture showing a continuous loss which to time of writing must have pushed its costs up to near $US60 million, there was no sign of Yip Hon Capitulation.

A combination of facts worked against Macau Raceway succeeding. Limitations in transport from Hong Kong to Macau and of suitable accommodation in Macau were high on the list. The failure of the club to establish reasonable betting pools by promoting off-course betting avenues meant that any big bettor participating would have to accept miniscule odds in return for any sizeable winning bet.

Ultimate success of harness racing at Macau would greatly benefit the sport in general and New Zealand and Australia in Particular, as such operation need to steady flow of horses for their race-force, and the best value in this field is to be found in New Zealand.

Of the 480 pacing geldings bought at bargain-basement price ($800 to $1500) to become Macau's initial racing force, 240 were secured from New Zealand and the balance from Australia. A further 100 were secured from Australia in 1981 and another 50 from New Zealand in 1982, each time the standard of horse and price paid being generally higher.

Of the 50 expatriates (many with their families) flown to Macau early in 1980 to serve in administration and as horsemen, some were from New Zealand, some from Australia and some from North America. Later an Italian trainer-driver joined the company.

If Macau trotting does eventually succeed, Chinese owners can be expected to seek increasingly better and higher-priced horses from New Zealand, Australia and perhaps even North America, as there is no scope at this point for breeding horses at or near Macau. Success of the Macau operation would almost assuredly see the sport spread to Japan, Singapore and other centres in and around Asia where galloping already had a foothold.

The envy of the trotting world, The Meadowlands in New Jersey continued its climb to fame, on 11 June 1982, staging a 10-race programme in conjunction with the heavyweight championship fight between Gerry Cooney and Larry Holmes, the meadowlands drew a record 52,974 crowd. It seemed only a matter of time before the Meadowlands would eclipse the world record for a trotting meeting; 54,861 at Roosevelt Raceway in New York 20 August, 1960.

Ron BISMAN

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