China plans 2.6 bn horse racing complex - By Peter Foster I The Telegraph
Posted on - 26 Sep 2013
China plans £2.6 bn horse racing complex
By Peter Foster in Beijing
An ambitious 10-year project, backed by developers in Dubai, aims to create a "Tianjin Horse City" with an international equestrian college, horse-breeding centre, auction base, animal feed factory, racetrack, and 7-star hotel with sweeping, phoenix-shaped grandstand.
An artist's impression of the new horse racing track
The Dubai-based Meydan group, the developer of the world's biggest horse racing complex, said it had been invited by the Chinese government to use its know-how to take horse racing in China to the next level.
"Horse racing is a brand-new industry in China," said Teo Ah Khing, the managing director of the Malaysian TAK Design Consultants, which is raising finance for the project, "They have little dots all over the country of horse racing and breeding but no structure." Comparisons are being drawn with Dubai which held its first race in 1992 with virtually no infrastructure in place, but within a decade was hosting the world's richest race, the $10m Dubai World Cup.
China is hoping to emulate that success, having legalised horse racing in 2008, however sources at the China Equestrian Association cautioned that the country was still woefully short of the experience and expertise required to run such a project.
Previous attempts to kick-start racing in China ran into difficulties, with the government shutting down a number of racecourses in 2000 in an anti-gambling campaign. In 2005 nearly 600 horses belonging to a failed Beijing racecourse were put down, to the fury of animal rights campaigners.
Racing was introduced in China by the British in the 19th and early 20th century, with the sport becoming a popular pastime. By the 1930s Shanghai boasted one of the largest racetracks in the world, the outline of which can still be seen in one of the city's parks.
However the sport was banned after the Communist revolution as a colonial and backward pursuit, but after a false start in the 1990s was legalised in 2008 when the former colonial "concession" of Wuhan in central China won the first licenses to stage races.
In a separate development, the owners of Wuhan's racing operations, Orient Lucky Horse Corporation, announced it was intending it was pushing ahead with its own three-year plan for a horse city, with luxury hotels in a bid to attract more tourists to the city.
Wuhan last year sent a delegation to Kentucky in the United States as part of its drive to create an international-standard horse racing industry in China, and Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province is developing a track in close co-operation with the Australian government.
Work on the Tianjin Horse City is slated to begin next month, with plans to complete the 660-acre equestrian college, stud farm and animal feed factory by the end of 2011, with the first 1,000 students scheduled to be enrolled the following year.
A stud farm breeding 1,000 horses a year, drawing on international bloodstock and an auction centre selling 700 horses a year are due for completion by the end of 2012. A luxury 3,600 bed hotel and accommodation for 20,000 workers is also planned.
The success of the project may well hinge on whether China's government moves to put racing on a commercial footing by legalising gambling which is currently limited to a lottery-style system where punters win scratch-lottery tickets for picking the winning horse.
But despite persistent lobbying in recent years from local governments to relax the rules, China's central government has refused to break a taboo on gambling which is a favourite pastime of the Chinese, with an estimated £50bn flowing out of China on illegal gambling every year.
The Chinese racing industry has argued that legalising on-track betting could generate up to three million jobs, clean up illegal gambling and generate some £4bn in tax revenues.
However a report by the Kentucky China Trade Centre last year played down the immediate prospects for expanding the sport in China.
"We cannot see a bright future for commercial horse racing, horse racing gambling and racetracks in mainland China in terms of the central government's attitude towards the issue and the circumstances of laws prohibiting it," it said.