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Asia CommentTaipan

Unhappy Valley: A night of betting on the horses

Horse racing is a way of life in Hong Kong. It is also just one part of life that has been changed dramatically by the coronavirus.

I have spent most of my working life in Hong Kong. I watched the fat lady sing at Dickens Bar to mark the handover in 1997. I went to see the last days of pit trading 20 years later. I have seen house prices rise, and rise, and rise.

A mainstay during this time has been regular trips to the Happy Valley race course. It is my form of meditation. There is a Zen-like focus — the abeyance of all other thoughts or frustrations — that comes in those two minutes when you’re watching a horse almost win.

The races are still being held. The Jockey Club’s monopoly on gambling means it is a huge source of revenue for the government — the races would still run if there was a Martian invasion. But only trainers, owners and a few of their friends are allowed in now. The stands are almost entirely empty. Just another thing that has changed as a result of the coronavirus.

There is hope. Dedicated gamblers, those who have friends who gamble, and even, in my case, a spouse who gambles, know that the atmosphere of Happy Valley can be recreated slightly with a large enough television, an ample selection of alcohol and an online betting account. Tai Tai and I decided to do just that this week, inviting a few friends over for a night of betting that reminded me what I have been missing.

Unfortunately, what I have been missing — ever since arriving in Hong Kong — is a profitable approach to actually betting on the damn things. Picking front-runners, trying to figure out a pace profile, looking at trainer changes or trial runs: none of this seems to work. I ended the evening significantly in the red.

Perhaps it’s for the best that the races stay closed to the public, for just a little bit longer. After all, it gives me time to work on my new system.


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