Racing is extremely big business here. Last year the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the sole legal outlet for gambling in the colony, took in bets totalling HK$80.6bn (pounds 6.5bn), this is equivalent to almost pounds 1m for every person in the colony.
The superb racing facilities and the extremely generous payments made to racing professionals has made the colony a favoured destination for visits by most of the world's leading jockeys and trainers.
Leading British-based jockeys, such as Pat Eddery, Walter Swinburn and Frankie Dettori, have made regular appearances in the colony, alongside the Irish rider Michael Kinane, Eric Saint-Martin and Eric Legrix from France and the South Africans Basil Marcus and Pierre Strydom. Foreign jockeys and trainers are among those questioned by the ICAC, although it is understood that none are among those arrested.
Allegations of race-fixing and illegal gambling are commonplace in the colony but the Jockey Club has consistently denied that there is any serious problem. These denials will be hard to sustain in the face of this crackdown. The club says that it is fully co-operating with the ICAC investigation.
Last October the club disciplined two jockeys for "stopping their horses running on their merits" and said that its investigation into the affair was continuing.
The arrests are believed to have included some of the leading names in Hong Kong horse racing. The colony's law prevents disclosure of names of those arrested on allegations of corruption until they are charged.
The swoop began while racing was underway on Sunday evening, with the jockey's room at the lavish Sha Tin racecourse being cordoned off. Trainers were escorted from the track while others were picked up in their homes. Further raids on suspected illegal betting premises were made yesterday as more people were picked up for questioning.
The ICAC will not comment on the nature of the allegations, however it is believed that offences include outright race-fixing, with jockeys being bribed for getting their horses to under perform, and providing illicit tips to illegal bookmakers.
The last major racing scandal was in 1986 when the authorities broke open the so called Shanghai Syndicate which controlled up to 100 horses as well as a number of trainers and jockeys. The syndicate's boss, the textile tycoon Yang Yuan-loong, was fined pounds 40,000 and given a two-year suspended jail sentence on the grounds that he was suffering from terminal cancer. Mr Yang is still alive and well.
Stakes at Hong Kong's two racecourses are traditionally very high, major events draw in bets totalling tens of millions of pounds for a single race. When the Shanghai Syndicate was busted it was revealed that more than pounds 1.5m was spent fixing single races. As more than a decade has elapsed it is likely that the sums involved today are far higher.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which has recently relinquished the word "royal" from its name, has been a bastion of the colony's establishment since horse racing began there in 1841, the year in which the Union flag was raised on Hong Kong soil. Donations from the Jockey Club provide the biggest non-governmental source of funds for educational institutions, medical facilities and welfare organisations.
The club's stewards have always been drawn from among the ranks of Hong Kong's most influential people. The only difference these days is that they tend to be Chinese rather than of British or Australian origin.
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