Horse racing in Hong Kong?
Yup, that’s right.
In the US, horse racing is a struggling sport. Aside from the Triple Crown, racetracks struggle to attract attendees and tracks across the nation have shut down. In Hong Kong, it’s exactly the opposite.
Horse racing may be the biggest sport in Hong Kong, attracting huge crowds at its two tracks: Sha Tin in the northern part of Kowloon island, and the super central Happy Valley. At Sha Tin, crowds of less than 20,000 are rare, and Happy Valley is known for its party atmosphere for Wednesday night races.
We were in Hong Kong over the Chinese New Year – a huge raceweek with one of the races, the Hong Kong Classic Cup at Sha Tin, having a prize of $10 million HKD ($1.3 million USD.) This wasn’t an event to be missed.
Sha Tin: The Experience
The first thing that’s striking about Sha Tin are the crowds. On the day we went, there were likely at least 40,000 people there, and the atmosphere was electric for the races. Everything was packed: the stands, the food court (with a good amount of options), and of course, the betting lines.
The lines for betting went 20 deep at all kiosks the whole time we were there, and there were at least 25 agents taking bets. Along with automatic betting, it’s clear that lots of money was waged on the races. The key is to be aggressive in line. At one point, someone swiped right in front of me and placed their bet because I was a second too slow. Lines in Hong Kong aren’t the most orderly in general, so being a few days in, I wasn’t even surprised.
Another great thing about Sha Tin? Cheap beer. With cans if Tsingtao selling for around $20 HKD ($3 USD), Sha Tin had some of the cheapest beer I saw in Hong Kong. This, combined with betting and cheering on your horses, makes for an awesome experience.
However, the best part of the day was when the favored horse in one of the races escaped the gate and ran away before the start, without a jockey, and ran the entire racetrack. It was hilarious, and at least the horse (sort of) knew what to do. The horse had to drop out of the race as a result.
How to bet
A big part of the experience is gambling, and, well, the lines to bet are long. There are many different types of bets and it can get complex, but this handy website has an explanation of the different bets you can place at the tracks in Hong Kong.
Looking to make the betting simple? Just place a win bet. If the horse you picked wins, you win. Or if you want a better chance of winning, make a place bet. Pick one horse and as long as it finishes in the top 3, you win.
As for me? I just placed win bets, and of course, none of my horses won. Guess I just didn’t place enough bets.
Want some good news? For some race days, tourist entrance is free when you show your passport! This was the case when we went, and even with this, the crowd didn’t have many tourists. On other days, entry is still quite cheap, usually $10 HKD ($1.30 USD.) The track really makes their money on gambling, anyway.
How to go
Generally, races are on Sunday afternoons (sometimes on Saturdays) at Sha Tin and Wednesday nights at Happy Valley. The schedule can be found here.
The easiest way to get to Sha Tin is by taking the MTR. The Racecourse station operates on race days only, and the Sha Tin station is a close walk if your train stops there instead. Overall, from Tsim Sha Tusi in the central part of Kowloon, the trip takes around 40 minutes.