Whilst 20 or even 10 years ago you would have struggled to find a competition in the country, horse racing is becoming increasingly popular in China. The sport was always popular in the country before the 20th century when aristocrats from around Europe use to travel around the world to race their horses on China’s tracks. But in 1949 the sport was banned by Communist Party leader Mao Zedong, who came to power after a political struggle in the country and banned a number of different hobbies.
But since the early 1990s the rules have been relaxed on the sport and its popularity has been growing at a rapid pace. By 2013, a total of 1,730 horses were being imported in to the country every year, an increase of over two thirds compared to the start of the decade. The importing of horses became so popular that last year the UK government signed a deal to export £10 million worth of racing horses every year to China.
But China has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to the ever growing popularity of horse racing in the UK. In Britain horse racing is the second biggest spectator sport, being beaten only by the massively popular football grounds around the country.
When big yearly events like the Grand National and the Cheltenham Festival are being held in the UK, you’ll struggle to find someone in the country who doesn’t know about it. People in workplaces around the country even hold their own sweepstakes, where they choose a horse at random and win a prize if the horse finishes first.
There is already increasing excitement of racing this year as many people are asking can Many Clouds get the Grand National Double and win the tournament two years in a row. His jockey Leighton Aspell already managed to do the double last year, making him the first man since Brian Fletcher who rode Red Rum in 1973 and 1974 to win the race on two consecutive years. Bookmakers Coral already have Many Clouds as favourite to win for a second time at 20/1, so it’s looking increasingly likely he could do it.
One of the main things the sport lacks in China compared to the UK is the betting aspect. Whatever race course you visit in China you won’t find a long cue of people waiting to put on a bet, as gambling on the horses is still illegal. The bizarre thing is that many race courses like Wuhan already have massive gambling halls built with desks already mostly set up ready to take any bets. That’s because the track owners can sense that a change of the law is imminent in the country and expect China’s ruling Communist Party to make betting legal in the next few years.
Once that law is passed, the passion for horse racing can only increase in the country and the sport will once again become a major part of the culture of China.