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  • Writer's pictureAlan Aitken

Hurdles in the past and future looks bright for $4 billion Conghua Training Centre

After $4 billion spent and almost a decade of planning and construction strewn with obstacles which had to be cleared, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Conghua Training Centre (CTC) opened for operations on July 12 and it will have a major ongoing effect on racing.

When Conghua (pronounced choong-fa) was first floated, the Jockey Club had parlayed providing the equestrian facilities for the 2008 Beijing Olympics into filling a similar role for the 2010 East Asian Games.

Part of the deal when the club converted a mountain top to the east north east of Guangzhou into an equestrian competition centre was that, post-Games, it would have the opportunity to turn the site it developed into a training centre for its own core business, horse racing.

Initially, it was thought the centre would be operational within three or four years but delays and interruptions to the project were constant and varied and that starting point was pushed back again and again. Progress picked up speed in the past two years, however, and things have remained on track for the last 18 months and the CTC opened right on schedule.

Initially, nine trainers will use the facility and have been allowed to expand by 10 horses the size of their stables – normally capped at 60 horses – as some type of trade off for having to split a proportion of the team to the satellite stable at the CTC.

The centre is not only a break for the horses away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong to a more countrified atmosphere but there are state of the art training facilities which include uphill and grass gallops and other options unavailable at Sha Tin.

There has been pushback from owners and from stable staff since the plan for the CTC was first announced along with serious logistic problems in getting it built and developing protocols for moving horses between the CTC and Sha Tin.

The CTC has a 5 kilometre Disease-Free Zone around it to keep the horses isolated from other animals but the movement of horses between Hong Kong and the base in China has brought an unforeseen negative in the changes to Hong Kong’s quarantine status with Australia. That in turn has stopped any participation by Australian horses in Hong Kong international events as any visitor would have to do a 6-month quarantine in a third country before returning to Australia.

Jockey Club officials are hopeful that this unwanted fallout from the Conghua centre will be worked through successfully with Australian authorities and the restrictions lifted by year’s end but there is still work to do.

On the positive side, chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges has pointed out that the opening of an operational CTC will lessen the work load for the Sha Tin stable facilities and allow the club to undertake much needed remedial work on them.

“Conghua is one of the biggest investments the club has ever made and it is world class – I had Michael Kinane there four months ago and he said it’s one of the best training centres he has ever seen,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said. “And now that it is under way, we have earmarked $1.5 billion to be spent on the Sha Tin facilities which are now 40 years old and have been showing their age in the past decade. Some areas at Sha Tin really need to be worked on and refurbished and this gives us the space and opportunity to do that.”

The CTC includes a small grandstand, a full service veterinary hospital, a range of different types of yards and a centre where owners can be entertained on visits to see their horses (below).

The Hong Kong Jockey Club intends to present horse racing as a Guangdong province as a tourist attraction as early as 2019, using Hong Kong’s horses, trainers and jockeys to conduct quality showcase meetings at the CTC.

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