The Hong Kong Jockey Club, with revenues last year of pounds 7.3bn, is preparing an unprecedented cull of about a fifth of its thoroughbred stock. The horses will be shot before the end of the racing season in July.
The club exercises enormous influence in Hong Kong, where its stewards are among the most powerful people in the territory. It organises races, stables the horses, takes responsibility for their care and training, and exercises control over horse ownership. This is not the responsibility of race-track owners in Britain.
Some 100 horses are put down each year in Hong Kong due to health problems. But this year, sources in the racing world say the number is set to double, because of recession in the territory. Owners are cutting back on their stables, and also-rans are being retired early.
Overcrowded Hong Kong has little room for horses that are no longer capable of winning money on the track. A few can be accommodated in local riding schools, but they are also operating under severe space restraints. Demand in mainland China, where equestrian sport is in its infancy, remains limited. This leaves the Jockey Club with the choice of shooting the horses or paying for their resettlement overseas.
While the club does offer to make a payment towards the pounds 3,000 its elite owners must pay to have their horses flown abroad, it is understood that many owners, as well as the club, are taking the cheaper option of shooting the retired animals.
Yet the Jockey Club has the resources to announce that it will host the richest 1,000m turf sprint in the world. Its five annual international races carry stake money totalling about pounds 2.5m, enough to ship more than 800 retired horses overseas.
The irony is that while more money is wagered on racing in Hong Kong than almost anywhere else, the territory is not known for its appreciation of horses. Indeed, the quality of racing in Hong Kong is mediocre. But sources close to the Jockey Club, who told the Independent on Sunday of the cull, believe that does not excuse the slaughter of healthy animals.
Rob Baxter, spokesman for the club, said it was not policy to put down healthy horses, but he was unable to say how many would be shot. He said: "We go to a lot of effort to make sure our horses can retire and have a decent life. Those sent to mainland China remain under the supervision of vets from Hong Kong."Reuse content