Happy Valley a place to rejuvenate your racing soul

December 8th, 2016

HONG KONG - When the Hong Kong Jockey Club announced attendance of around 29,600 for Wednesday night's International Jockey Championship at Happy Valley Racecourse, my first thought, and not in a negative way, was "That's it?"

In truth, it was a terrific crowd. It was the second highest for the event since 1999, and handle was reported at HK$1.238 billion. For you currency exchange geeks in the audience, that's still north of 158 million U.S. greenbacks...for nine races!

The attendance number confused me briefly based on my experience navigating through, or attempting to navigate, the grandstand apron and seating areas, plus the immensely popular beer garden. I hadn't squeezed and sweat through a racing crowd like that since the Kentucky Derby (G1) in May.

With much of the nine-floor facility restricted to members and other VIPs able to enjoy the entertainment in more spacious surroundings, it's no wonder I felt like a sardine down below. On the other hand, there's something to be said about much of a crowd congregating in one place. The vibe is incredible, and it's one thing sadly missing from much of the racing world these days.

Even without a near-record crowd for the IJC, Happy Valley consistently gives off great vibes. Whether you've actually been there or not, its reputation as an iconic venue for the sport precedes it.

As a first-time visitor Wednesday, Happy Valley lived up to the hype. Nestled among the skyscrapers and the city that gradually grew up around it, Happy Valley has evolved into an amphitheatre and offers one of the most spectacular and unique backdrops in racing.

Whether you're high in the stands or perhaps viewing with binoculars from a nearby residential building, you can't be more on top of the action than at Happy Valley.

The tight, narrow course of roughly seven furlongs, with it's inclines into the first turn and down the backside, are to foreign eyes a welcome respite from monotonous, left-handed racing on a level oval which, with a couple exceptions, is standard in North America.

As the world has shrunk, so has racing. Rejuvenation is often the key to maintaining an interest in the sport at a high level, and there's really no better way to do that than to get out and see how the rest of the world presents, in my opinion, the best sport and game ever invented.

My frame of reference is still relatively limited, but I'm sure few places do it as well as Happy Valley. The journey to get there can be long and arduous for most, but the reward for your racing soul is worth it.

P.S. Kudos to Happy Valley on having one of the finest tote boards ever.