Hong Kong Jockey Club seeks to unsaddle its colonial image

This really is the end of an era. The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, one of the oldest colonial institutions, is about to announce the appointment of its first Chinese chief executive, replacing a succession of British former army officers.

The Jockey Club occupies a special place in the life of Hong Kong, not only as the only legal outlet for gambling, but as the leading social centre where the rich and influential can mingle in discreet private rooms set high above the race course.

The old Hong Kong joke has it that the colony is run by the Jockey Club, the Bank (meaning the Hongkong Bank) and the Governor, in that order. Times may have changed but the Jockey Club is still desperately striving to dispel its colonial image. It will soon drop the word "Royal" from its name and is seeking to attract board members who are well connected to Peking.

The new chief executive will replace General Guy Watkins, an urbane and well-regarded military man who is far too much in the old mould to match the new image that the Jockey Club is trying to cultivate. Speculation about names centres on Kenneth Boey, a previous director of the club's membership-services department.

David Yau, head of the club's corporate-affairs department, said yesterday that "it would be best if [the new chief executive] is an ethnic Chinese and can speak fluent Cantonese and Mandarin, since Hong Kong will become a part of China." He added: "Of course, to be on good terms with China is always necessary and a good thing, and this is what all Hong Kong people think."

There has been speculation over the appointment of other candidates but Mr Boey is the front-runner for the job, which carries an annual salary of HK$5m (pounds 416,666).

Ironically, Mr Boey used to work for another pillar of the colonial establishment, the Jardine Group, where he ran its marketing-services division, Jardine Pacific, before emigrating to the United States five years ago.

The Jockey Club is big business. Last year its betting turnover totalled HK$72.3bn, making it one of the biggest horseracing centres in the world.

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