After remaining a popular pastime for millennia, horse racing in China was virtually shut down after a government ban in 1945. Now, some investors have been trying to bring the sport back, though the process has proven to be slow and difficult so far.

Horse racing in China

Investors have made several efforts to reinvigorate horse racing in mainland China, with limited success. (Image: Reuters)

Over the past decade, investors from around the world have made efforts to beef up the amount of racing taking place in China, with limited success. According to a Forbes reports, there are still only about 60 races run each year on the Chinese mainland.

In recent years, efforts to revive an industry have included attempts to turn China into a center for racing and breeding.

In 2010, the Meydan Group, a state-owned horse track developer in Dubai, entered a joint venture to build the Tianjin Horse City, a facility designed to train equestrian professionals, breed high-quality horses, and run professional races.

But despite impressive plans, construction never began on the facility, and the project now seems stalled.

Racing Survives in Traditional Regions

More modest efforts have seen greater success, however, especially in areas of the country that are traditionally associated with horse culture. Since 2013, the China Horse Club has been staging races as a part of festivals in Inner Mongolia.

By August 2016, the China Equine Cultural Festival in Ordos was able to hold four races with more than 30 thoroughbreds, with prizes as large as 1 million yuan ($151,000). About 1.4 million people in China watched those races online thanks to livestreaming, showing that there’s at least limited interest in racing among the Chinese people.

For the moment, most of the horses participating in these races come from overseas, with Australia being a popular point of origin. A recent report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation noted that China’s interest in purchasing horses has increased since the turn of the century, which could be a huge boon for local breeders.

“The last probably half a dozen years we’ve seen a lot of Chinese groups invest in our industry, which is fantastic,” said Adam White, the bloodstock manager at Vinery Stud. “They’re also exporting horses from here to China to race.”

Hong Kong Horse Track Thrives

Most of this interest hasn’t translated onto the Chinese mainland just yet. Instead, the focus is in Hong Kong, where the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) runs more than 700 races a year on their two tracks. In the fiscal year ending June 30, the HKJC took in a record HK$216.5 billion ($27.7 billion), with more than half of that coming from horse racing alone.

Comparatively, racing on the mainland is still fraught with uncertainty. The HKJC themselves hope to establish a foothold in China proper, even announcing a deal in 2014 to open a training facility near Guangzhou.

That facility has yet to open because of bureaucratic red tape, and has caused quarantine issues for Hong Kong’s racing industry.

But the allure of a potential mainland windfall remains, with the HKJC being just the latest group to hope they’ll be in position to take advantage if anti-gambling laws are loosened and the Chinese public catches racing fever.