Featured image photo credit: Macao Archives
Currently under the management of one of Stanley Ho’s companies, Macau Jockey Club has a strong presence in the history of the territory, with 2019 being their 30th anniversary! Although it was founded not that long ago, the institution of horse races was at its prime during the 90s, when betting on horses was not only popular but super trendy.
Horse racing is an equestrian sport where jockeys ride horses and race in an oval track course, competing to finish first. Its existence is on record going way back to Ancient Greece, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. The sport has been quite popular all over the world, especially Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, but also some other European countries.
Here, we take a look into the history of one of Macau’s most iconic buildings and brands. While the number of fans of animals races is decreasing due to a wider awareness on nature preservation and animal care, betting has always been a very popular activity in Macau (and China, in general), so it should be interesting to know how one of Macau’s most powerful tycoon got there.
Macau Trotting Club
What we now know as one of Taipa most recognizable infrastructures started as the Macau Trotting Club in 1977. You might have known that already, but we bet you didn’t know what the then founders wanted to establish in the city at the time: harness races! Quite popular in European countries such as France and Sweden, it consists of a horse trotting with a harnessed athlete on his back.
The first race of this kind at the then Trotting Club took place in September 1980. However, the idea wasn’t successful and in 1988, said club became a regular horse racing track. The Macau Jockey Club opened a few months later for a short period of time. Already under STDM’s management, the company opened back up in January 1991.
The Macau Horse Race Co held the monopoly on horse race betting in Macau since 1978 and things went quite well for a few decades. The sport itself still has lots of fans with tourists coming to Macau who leisurely head to the Macau Jockey Club to see some weekend races.
The creation and current operation of the Macau Jockey Club have been involved in controversy over the years. Some argue that the club should resume its races due to a generalized increase of animal wellbeing awareness; others defend that this is a tradition and that this is a cultural activity defining the city. The firm has been accumulating losses which by the end of 2016, reached MOP $4 billion. Its last profits date back to 2004. However, due to its popularity, in 2008, their horse betting concession was extended for 24 more years with the mandatory improvement of their facilities, among other demands from the government.
Racing for a Cause
Although in general terms, the Macau Jockey Club doesn’t collect as much revenue as the casinos in the territory, it still is a great institution, especially because it helps people in need and has special funds. Every year, the institution organizes a charity day race, where all the money raised is used for educational scholarships, granted to prospective students in need of financial aid.
They also sponsor public clinics open to every citizen and have even set up, in 2003, the Macau Loving Heart Charity Fund. The idea is to use the money collected by this fund to two different projects: the first part should be invested in a special program of large scale in either China or Macau, and the second is to be used to support a charity program of a smaller scale in the city.
Although there has been a growing number of people arguing against horse races and more freedom for the animals, the truth is that this sport still has hundreds of fans all across the world and Macau is known for having great regional and international jockeys coming to town to compete at the Club’s races.
A Bit of Background
It is difficult to state the precise date of the first racehorses in Macau, but the city was definitely the first place in China to host this sport. In his diary, British trader and traveler Peter Mundy (1597–1667) wrote about witnessing a horse race in front of the Church of São Domingos, which was located somewhere close to Senado Square.
An 1829 edition of the English newspaper Canton Register writes about a horse race taking place in Macau and bringing “so much rational amusement”. Other records talk about the establishment of Macau Race Club in 1838, which created roots for the later creation of the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
The first official racecourse–known by the local community as Hipódromo–was inaugurated in 1927 in Hac Sa Wan (Areia Preta) area. However, it closed down in 1941, just right before the Pacific War. The field was then used to shelter refugees (from Hong Kong and China) where they built small wooden houses right on top of grass.
Macau Jockey Club Hipódromo da Taipa, +853 2882 0868, www.mjc.mo/race_en