China Underground > Entertainment > Riding the Silk Road: Exploring the History and Future of Horse Racing in China

Riding the Silk Road: Exploring the History and Future of Horse Racing in China

What started as a heavily concentrated sport mainly in Europe, quickly spread across the world. Yes, we are talking about horse racing, the sport that has embedded its roots deep into certain civilizations over the years.

Now we know that horse racing is quite popular in the UK and the US, but what about China?

The truth is, horse racing doesn’t come first to mind when we talk about China, right? But most people are surprised to find out that China actually has a long and fascinating history with the sport that dates back to ancient times.

Over the years, horse racing in China never got to the top of the most popular sports list, but with the rise of the middle class, we are now witnessing a growth in interest in this age-old sport. It is important to note that horse racing in China survived without any legal betting opportunities, and since betting is a huge part of the sport, this shows that the sport can thrive solely on passion.

And how can a sport survive without any horse betting promotions or building incentives to get people interested in the sport without betting? Well, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

In recent years, horse racing betting is somehow legal, but heavily regulated by the government.

In today’s article, we will explore the history and the future of Chinese horse racing.

History of Horse Racing in China

China has quite a vibrant history with the sport. It has been banned on multiple occasions, then revived and pushed by the government to be one of the leading sports in the country.

As we mentioned before, China has a long history with the sport that dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). But it wasn’t only about entertaining the public, but also for the Chinese to showcase their special breeding and training methods.

The peak popularity of horse racing in China was achieved during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), who was a passionate fan of the sport and actively promoted horse racing. He was the person responsible for establishing the Imperial Stud, which was a place where horses were bred and trained for racing.

History of Modern-Day Horse Racing in China

Now we are entering the dark times, not just for horse racing, but for most sports in China. During the 20th century, China entered a phase called the Cultural Revolution which began in the mid-1960s. During those times, almost all forms of sporting activities were discouraged or outright banned.

Why?

Well, the Chinese government never viewed sports as a competition or entertainment, but as a symbol of decadence and capitalist influence.

This led to the suppression of the horse racing industry in China, where most horse racing traditions were lost. This period lasted for decades, and it was only in the late 20th century that horse racing and other sports began to resurface in China.

The Rebirth of Horse Racing

Due to the rapid economic growth of China and the rise of the middle class, we saw that many locals were starting to look for entertainment in the late 20th and beginning of the 21st century.

For the first time in a while, the Chinese government recognized the potential economic benefits of the sport and started to push horse racing, but in a much more controlled and regulated manner. It took the Chinese a long time to see the first China Horse Club, which was established in 2008, much later than most countries where horse racing is now popular.

This was the golden age for the sport as the public showed huge interest in horse racing and government can now see the benefits. Therefore, China has many new racecourses, such as the impressive Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, which hosts some of the most popular horse races in the country.

Additionally, the Chinese partnership group (the horse club) collectively owns racehorses. It is worth mentioning that they were one of the four groups that own the 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify.

But despite these efforts, China has a long way to go until horse racing is popular yet again.

Nowadays, mainland China witnesses a scarcity of horse races, sluggish horses, and an unforgiving abyss that swallows up optimistic investors, leaving behind a graveyard of abandoned aspirations and a handful of eerie, deserted racetracks.

The Future of Horse Racing in China

In 1945, organized racing was officially banned in China, and since 1949, there hasn’t been any legal gambling on horse racing in mainland China. Nevertheless, recent years have seen the emergence of localized exhibition races, conducted by entities like the HKJC in Conghua and the China Horse Club (CHC) in places like Inner Mongolia.

China has increasingly invested in horse racing overseas, notably exemplified by the success of the undefeated 2018 US Triple Crown champion, Justify, who had partial ownership by CHC. This exclusive international organization holds stakes in the Tote and reportedly charges a substantial $1 million joining fee.

The government has ambitious plans to revitalize the sport, known locally as ‘speed racing.’ They aim to raise horse welfare and medication standards to meet international benchmarks, foster national competitions, and release an annual report assessing the “credibility of horseracing in China.”

Notably, the Hong Kong Jockey Club reaped a record-breaking $38.9 million USD profit last year, a figure that catches the eye when considering mainland China’s population.

The prevalent stereotype of wealthy Chinese individuals as extravagant spenders has been so potent that it can promote horse racing as a profitable enterprise even without gambling—a pioneering move.

In 2010, the announcement of Tianjin Horse City near Beijing held the promise of reviving horse culture in China. However, the project underwent numerous changes, from its name to its main business partner and even its location, with construction never commencing.

It seems like the horse racing culture in China is going two steps forward, and three steps back. This is going to be a long process, and all of these tight regulations are preventing horse racing from rising to its glory days.

Featured image by 润秋 汪: Pexels

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