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By Darren Winningham | Tuesday, December 11, 2018

There are so many fine race meetings around the world – some with traditions and events that date back hundreds of years whilst others have been in existence for far less than that.

When I travel around to race courses both within Australia and overseas and engage people who love the sport of kings, I hear many stories and recollections of the tracks, the racing and the hospitality of race track personnel around the World.

The one constant factor in these discussions is the passion of the person I am talking to about their experience and enjoyment they have achieved by attending a horse racing meeting.

This is my quick tour of horse racing around the world and the feast of fascinating opportunity that awaits the travelling horse racing fan.

In no particular order here are some of the tracks and meetings about which people (not necessarily punters) have shared with their views with me.


Kentucky Derby. Louisville, Kentucky – USA

The meeting can be formal – hats are popular and the custom local drink for the day is a bourbon mint julep. I mean what else would you drink whilst you are in Kentucky.

The meeting features to the first leg of the US Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. Every year on the first Saturday in May, over 150,000 spectators flock to Churchill Downs for this historic event, a tradition since 1875. The race is just 1-1/4 miles and lasts no more than 2 minutes, earning it the reputation as the "Greatest 2 Minutes in Sports."

The trademark of this race is when the winner crosses the finish line, his horse is draped in an elaborate garland made up of hundreds of red roses – this is truly a spectacular event.

Belmont Stakes. Elmont, New York – USA

The horse-racing community waits for the first Saturday in June for the Belmont Stakes, the third and final leg of the Triple Crown, hoping that a single horse may pull off the great feat of taking out all three victories in the year's Triple Crown series.

The Belmont Stakes is the oldest of the Triple Crown Races dating back to 1867, and the longest and most challenging at 1-1/2 miles. In 1973 Secretariat cemented his reputation as one of the world's greatest racehorses when he won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, breaking world records that had stood for years
The Belmont Stakes is the Triple Crown's most accessible race, not only because of its proximity to New York City, but because, while there are some reserved seats, most tickets are general admission between $10 and $20.

I have had the opportunity to attend this track and experience the track and racing. It is wonderful – the grounds are spacious – the lawns immaculate and then you have the wonderful garden areas with tables chairs and benches. Families flock to these areas and have picnic lunches whilst watching the horses’ parade and stretch out pre and post-race. Jump on the train from Grand Central and make a day of it!

Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Paris, France.

The Qatar Paris Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, known simply as the Arc, is one of Europe's biggest horse-racing events. Thousands of elegant spectators fill the grandstand the first Sunday of October at Longchamp Racecourse on the banks of the Seine.

Thanks to its affiliation with the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club, it has one of the highest prizes in the racing world at 4 million Euros. Arrive early to enjoy the champagne and live jazz music and get a look at the race course's reproduction of the façade of the Doha souk and a Qatar village as well as pony rides for the children.

Whilst I have not attended this meeting, I have been fortunate to attend the track. Again, it is wonderful. It has undergone a massive revamp which has brought it in line with some of the best facilities in the World. They have maintained the heritage of the track but provided the patron with a wonderful racing experience. About 3 Euros will get you into the track and they offer free buses and shuttles to the track.

The Royal Ascot. Ascot, England.

The Royal Ascot, a week-long racing series with 16 group races, has been a part of British tradition since 1711 with plenty of pomp and splendour. The Queen and the Royal Party typically attend all the event's races so you should dress the part of royalty.

Depending on where you sit, you'll need to abide by a strict and enforced dress code -- no jeans, sneakers, shorts, or bare midriffs.

I have had many friends who have attended this meeting. They love the opportunity to dress up in top hat and tails – they love the hospitality and the racing. They all speak passionately about the Royal Procession, the Military Bands, the overabundance of food stalls and the races themselves from the Grandstand areas. I suppose if you are Royalist it would be a great opportunity to see the Queen and offer her a wave or three!

The Grand National. Aintree, England.

The Grand National in Aintree, England, offers a different kind of horse-racing experience with a massive field of horses competing along a 6907-metre course studded with 30 fences.

This National Hunt horse race, a style popular in France and the United Kingdom, takes place on a Saturday in early April. The drama is spread out over 3 days while spectators gather in the grandstands and all-inclusive restaurants to watch the winning horse pass through the finish line after jumping the last obstacle along the Steeplechase.

While jump racing is not everyone's cup of tea, for those who enjoy it I am told it is a true experience that must not be missed.

Dubai World Cup. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

A relative newcomer on the horse-racing scene, the Dubai World Cup first put the United Arab Emirates on the horseracing map in 1996 with its inaugural race at the Meydan Racecourse. It's the richest horse race in the world with a purse of $10 million for the lucky winner.

The new Meydan Racecourse opened in 2010 alongside The Meydan Hotel so you can watch the race from the swanky grandstand or from the comfort of an extravagant room or suite at the world's first track-side hotel.

Meydan is the visionary concept of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai. The project is the realization of a unique idea to create more than a venue for world-class horse racing - a sustainable forward-thinking city that places Dubai underneath the global business spotlight.

This is on my bucket list at some stage - so many people have given me tips on where to sit and what to do. The course is enormous – it is built with the most modern facilities it is like a resort in a desert! But be warned the racing season is limited normally from November to mid-April each year.

Melbourne Cup. Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, Australia.

The annual Melbourne Cup Carnival, a tradition dating back to 1861 that is considered by many to showcase the greatest 3200-meter horse race in the world - The Melbourne Cup.

The race has a strong international presence, both in the competition and the attendees who celebrate at the carnival in customary hats. Fashions on the Field, celebrating the carnival's best-dressed men and women with celebrity judges and high-end sponsors.

A combination of general admission and grandstand tickets offer affordable options for the big event on the first Tuesday in November, as well as the other races spread out over the weeks’ worth of events at the carnival.

The track is easy to get to from the City. But many have tipped me taking a cruise from Sydney that culminates in Melbourne for the Cup. I have attended this race on two occasions – I loved both my experiences and happy to say I finished in front each time!

W. S. Cox Plate, Moonee Valley Racecourse, Melbourne, Australia.

The W.S. Cox Plate is a Moonee Valley Racing Club Group 1 horse race for horses aged three years old and over under weight-for-age conditions, over 2040 metres, held in late October.

The race, Australia's richest weight-for-age race with prizemoney of A$5,000,000, was first run in 1922 and is fast approaching 100 years of history – there will be a massive celebration planned in 2022, I am sure! Maybe you should be planning to attend then!

The race has been dominated by Winx in recent years – she has won four years in a row.

I have attended this meeting on two occasions – it is a great day out. You can get close to the horses and experience the thrill and excitement of the feature race
Champions are made at Moonee Valley!

The Japan Cup, Fuchu, Tokyo

The Japan Cup is one of the most prestigious horse races in Japan. It is contested on the last Sunday of November, post time of 15:40 at Tokyo Racecourse in Fuchu, over 2400 meters and is run under weight for age conditions with a full field of 18 horses on turf.

With a purse of ¥476 million (about US $4.3 million), the Japan Cup is one of the richest races in the world.

It is easily accessed from the Japanese Metro system with a train pulling up at the race course. I have attended this meeting on two occasions. It is unique for several reasons.

Firstly, they stop racing for about one hour after race two or three so the patrons can go and enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants or food outlets on the course.

The next thing that you must experience is when there is a feature race on the program. The race starter is in like a cherry picker – it raises up high and he waves a red flag that signals the attendants to start loading the runners. But at the same time the crowd get their race books or just their hands and start clapping in unison until the race commences – it is truly an amazing and inspirations experience.

Singapore Cup, Kranji, Singapore

The Singapore Gold Cup is the richest race on the Singapore racing calendar with a history dating back to 1924. First run on October 18, 1924 at Farrer Park racecourse. Thelasocrete won and took home only $1,600. Now run over 2000 metres under handicap conditions, the time-honoured race now carries a total purse of $1.35 million. The race is usually run the second weekend in November each year.

The Singapore MRT system stops adjacent to the race course entry and is the most efficient way to get to the track on big race days. On other days if you are holidaying and just want to experience horse racing and a night out you can have a lovely banquet four course meal for around $125 AUD for two people.

You could take a taxi to and from the course as well. If you win a fortune why not indulge and get a limousine back to your hotel door.

I have experienced the hospitality of the Singapore Turf Club – they are a wonderful organisation and will go out of their way to ensure you have a great experience at the track. I would strongly suggest you contact them and book prior – they will help you with any questions you may have.

Hong Kong Jockey Club – Happy Valley and Sha Tin Racecourses

This is where the journey ends … and I have got to say LAST BUT NOT LEAST is The Hong Kong Jockey Club or their signature branding HKJC.

In fact, this is my favourite International Race meeting. I have attended this meeting now on six occasions. In 2018 I was fortunate to be granted media accreditation and all I can say is WOW!

From the moment you are successful with that media application, to the weeks after you leave, the communication, the organisation and the quality of information that the Club provides is second to no experience in the World.

The staff, the volunteers, the owners, trainers, jockeys and the locals make you feel welcome in every way. It is truly a week of International Racing and packed with events to keep you very busy.

For those who have never experienced horse racing in Hong Kong you must ensure that you visit both race courses managed by the HKJC. They are both modern and have amazing facilities, however, they have their own unique beauty and character.

The Happy Valley Racecourse is a tourist attraction in Hong Kong. It is in Happy Valley on Hong Kong Island, surrounded by Wong Nai Chung Road and Morrison Hill Road. Races in Happy Valley normally take place on Wednesday nights and are well supported by locals, members of the Club and tourists or visitors.

The Happy Valley track features seven-storey stands that can accommodate approximately 55,000 spectators. I network of lifts and walkways join the stands and make for easy transition and movement around the course. However, there are two features of this course that stand out for mine.

One is the tall sky scraper buildings that surround the course where people reside. The second is the inner field of the course which contains sports and leisure facilities such as football, hockey and rugby fields and horse parade rings. It is an amazing multipurpose facility in the middle of a city!

Outside of the International Race evening the track offers several dining venues for visitors. I must strongly suggest that you book the buffet on the Stable Bend Terrace which includes all food and drinks for five hours for around $115 AUD. The food variety is sensational, and the price includes entry.

Make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment. In this area is free Wi Fi – betting outlets and undercover areas to enjoy the evening under light racing program. The HJKC staff will even chaperone you down to the winner’s enclosure and parade ring if you would like to get a close view of the track.

This track hosts the Longines International Jockeys Championship the Wednesday night before the pinnacle of Hong Kong racing held at the Sha Tin track – Longines International Races – featuring four Group 1 races.

Now I must talk about the Sha Tin race track.

It is in the New Territories at Sha Tin. Easily accessed by the Hong Kong MTR that has a station adjacent to the track.

The track is the central hub of Hong Kong Racing. It now has capacity for 85,000 in two grandstands. It also has 20 stable complexes for a capacity of 1,260 horses.
Other features include: Equine Hospital, Racing Laboratory, Equine Swimming Pool, Riverside Gallop.

Like the Happy Valley course, the Sha Tin course has many locations to dine and watch the races. I would suggest that you book the Visitors Box. For around $130 AUD you can enjoy an amazing buffet lunch, dessert, and even afternoon tea supplemented by unlimited drinks.

The boxes are located on the sixth floor in the grand stand offering a unique view of the course and the racing. The boxes are air conditioned with outdoor balcony areas attached to each box. Betting facilities and Wi Fi are present in all areas.

You must take a walk down to the undercover parade ring where you can see where the horses, the jockeys and owners and trainers congregate before each race. It is a wonderful enclosure and venue that you must experience.

As you leave the area make sure you stop in and check out the HKJC merchandise and souvenir area adjacent to the parade ring. They have some high-quality products at very reasonable prices.

I may be biased but there is no better facility that a patron, media representative or tourist may enjoy. The Hong Kong Jockey Club leave nothing to chance for their patrons – whether they are tourists, members or just the general public.

You should make a note of the Longines Hong Kong International Races for 2019 and plan to get there.

Of course, each track mentioned really offers the visitor its own unique experience.

It is quite a bucket list but I am still trying to tick off as many of them as I can.

I’m sure you won’t be disappointed whichever venue you manage to get to.

I can tell you it is worth the effort.

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