Horse racing in Hong Kong in big business, especially as it is the only form of legal gambling in the territory. Run by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, they run two racecourses, as well as a large number of off-track betting stores.
The racecourse at Happy Valley was the original course in Hong Kong. Due to the lack of space, the grandstands around the course go straight up, not on an angle like you usually see.
Racing is usually held at Happy Valley on Wednesday nights.
Happy Valley is also the most popular racecourse with tourists, due to the location on Hong Kong Island. Inside the grandstands the public facilities are a lot more modern. Out in the public areas there are a number of bars serving beer: it seems to be mainly tourists and expats you frequent them, the local punters being there just for the gambling.
The second racetrack was opened at Sha Tin in the New Territories in 1978. When I visited the crowds were much smaller than at Happy Valley, and I got for free because they were already past the halfway point of the race meeting.
The 1970s feel can really be seen when you head inside the grandstand, with retro orange covering the betting windows, as well as the food court.
Racing usually happens on a Saturday afternoon.
Unlike Happy Valley, the Sha Tin course was built from the ground up to cater for massive crowds. After finishing time everyone clears out straight away.
Note that you can use your Octopus card to pay for your racecourse entry.
After each race at the Sha Tin course there are at least three adjacent bus termini full of waiting buses and taxis, along with a dedicated railway station on the East Rail line.
The last part of the Hong Kong Jockey Club betting empire is their off-track betting stores. As well as taking bets on horse races, they run fixed odds betting on overseas soccer games, and a a Mark Six lottery. Since smoking bans were brought in, it isn’t uncommon to see people standing outside with a cig in their hand, and their eyes looking back in.
The betting slips are a bit hard to decode if you can’t read Chinese: they just have the bare minimum of English printed on them. This ticket (from the racecourse) was for race 4, $10 to win and $10 to place on horse number 11.
Despite the off-track betting stores all over Hong Kong, at the racecourses themselves many people settle down in front of the TV screens inside the grandstand so they can place their bets.
Of course, the other forms of gambling in Hong Kong is catching a ferry to Macau to visit their legal casinos, Mahjong “schools”, and various forms of illegal betting. That is a whole other story…