Fresh air, outdoor drinks and weekly excitement
When the British arrived in Hong Kong, one of the first things they built was a racecourse. Open since 1845, the Happy Valley Racecourse occupies a unique place in Hong Kong’s history and culture. Every Wednesday, thousands of people flock here to watch the horses and to enjoy the track-side beer garden, where you can stand so close to the race you can smell the musky scent of the horses as they rush by.
Although the races are open to the public, most of the track’s facilities are reserved for members of the exclusive Jockey Club. Peer up at the swanky clubhouse as you stand in the beer garden – some of Hong Kong’s most powerful people are watching the race from up there.
Gambling is illegal in Hong Kong – unless it’s run by the Jockey Club, which maintains a network of betting centres all over the city. With twice-weekly horse races (Wednesday in Happy Valley and Sunday at another track in Sha Tin), Hongkongers follow the sport with almost religious fervor, pouring over statistics published every week in the newspapers while they listen to the races on the radio. It’s fun, but they also have skin in the game, which explains the passion.
The racecourse suffered a devastating fire in 1918 that killed more than 614 people. Most of the death and injury occurred when the spectator stands collapsed. A monument and special cemetery was dedicated to the victims. It still exists today across from the Happy Valley racetrack.