For many in the horse racing world, Happy Valley Racecourse is unmatched for its middle-of-town location and racing heritage. In operation since the 1840s, it is now home to more than 300 races each year, run mostly on Wednesday evenings and set against the backdrop of brightly-lit skyscrapers.
The racecourse is characterised by an interesting layout, featuring a little kink on the opposite straight and corners of uneven degrees, which serve as a reminder of the great sporting venue’s humble origins. The racecourse was built on former swampland, the only piece of flat land deemed appropriate for horse racing on Hong Kong Island by the pioneering spirits who brought it to life.
Nowadays, Happy Valley Racecourse is in every imaginable sense a world-class racing facility. A winner in a typical race is often decided by a margin of just a split second. The jockey-horse team must give everything they have to come out on top.
For the public, Happy Valley means a chill-out hub thanks to Happy Wednesday, a midweek party night that brings die-hard racing fans and the young and hip together in the open-air Beer Garden and other venues like Adrenaline, The Gallery, Stable Bend Terrace and The Leading Edge.
Happy Wednesday brings an up-close and personal horse racing experience to this century-old racecourse, offering splendid live music, regular theme nights, a cosmopolitan crowd and cuisines from all corners of the world. All these elements have helped make the racecourse a green oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, turning it into a local entertainment landmark and a popular tourist attraction.
Without doubt, though, the focal point of Happy Wednesday is the Club’s world-class races. They are made possible by the top-quality turf track, ensuring the safety of the jockeys and the beautiful, powerful thoroughbreds that race against each other. “There is a lateral and vertical water drainage system in place, so that rainwater can be quickly discharged without causing wet spots on the surface,” explains Chan Ming-kuon of the Club’s Tracks Department. The turf track is made up of several material layers above the hard base, bottom to top are aggregate layer, sand layer and reinforced sand profile, in addition to the turf layer on top.
Chan feels he is particularly close to the racecourse. “I was born in the hospital just across the street,” he says. “I remember watching horse racing when I was young from the iconic rock (the Big Rock) outpost. I’ve always been around this racecourse. Now it is my duty to keep the tracks in a good and safe condition.”
Having been with the Club for 40 years, Chan has witnessed the remarkable progress of the organisation. “In the past, colleagues in the Tracks Department literally had to take everything into their own hands,” he says. “A couple of decades back routine track management was labour-intensive. Then, the Club gradually introduced a host of advanced equipment and machineries to ensure the tracks are maintained to the highest possible standards, while taking care of the well-being of those of us working on them.”
At each fixture during the racing season that runs from September to July, Chan still watches horse racing with keen interest. He is not simply sharing the thrill of cheering for the horses as they gallop down the home straight; he takes pride in being part of a team who maintain the track conditions to such high standards that no jockeys or horses ever need to worry about the safety of their surroundings, and can focus solely on winning.