Macau’s final race meeting arrives: ‘Everyone is just going through the motions’

Macau’s final race meeting arrives: ‘Everyone is just going through the motions’

After a whirlwind 75 days of uncertainty and sadness, Macau will host horse racing for the final time on Saturday.

Unlike their counterparts in Singapore, who were given over a year to prepare for the end of racing in the Lion City this October, those in Macau were only delivered the news of the sport’s abrupt demise in January.

When announcing the concession to run horse racing would cease on April 1, the Macau government confirmed racing activities were “failing to generate the economic and social benefits they should”, with the Macau Horse Racing Company admitting to severe financial difficulties and an accumulated loss of over 2.5 billion patacas (US$310 million).

There is still much that remains unresolved, with trainers, jockeys and stable staff writing to the city’s leader Ho Iat-seng last month, demanding they be provided with “reasonable compensation” for losing their livelihoods.

Saying they were frightened and distressed about what the future holds, the group pointed to the sport’s nearly 25-year contract extension in 2018 as reason to believe they would have “a lifelong and reliable career”.

There is also concern for horse welfare and discontent among owners, who recently held a press conference to request compensation after saying they had been assured racing would continue, only to be told the Macau Jockey Club (MJC) had no intention of meeting their demands.

While the MJC has agreed to subsidise horse transport, offering a maximum of HK$30,000 for those going to mainland China and HK$200,000 to travel a horse overseas, there is still significant uncertainty around how much money will actually be handed over and what compensation will look like for retiring horses.

The MJC has remained tight-lipped through its final months, saying to the Post in a statement this week that “due to the subsequent arrangements following the termination of the horse racing operating contract, we apologise that we are not able to accommodate any media requests. Thank you for your understanding and thank you again for your support to our club.”

Macau trainer Joe Lau. Photo: Kenneth Chan

For trainer Joe Lau, who was there for the MJC’s first thoroughbred race in 1989 and will be there for its last this weekend, there is an incredible feeling of sadness.

He experienced the highs that saw the horse population soar past 1,200 and turnover boom and has watched on as the MJC – once the baby of the late Stanley Ho Hung-sun but now led by his fourth wife Angela Leong On-kei – has run a racing jurisdiction plagued by falling turnover, fewer races, dwindling horse numbers and ageing facilities.

“It’s such a sad ending. I think people will only feel it properly once it’s over,” Lau said. “Everyone is just going through the motions for the last meeting. Probably on Saturday night or when we wake up with a bit of hangover on Sunday, we will realise it’s really over and done with.”

There will be 14 races at Taipa on Saturday, ensuring a good chunk of the roughly 200 horses left in Macau get one final run, and Lau is expecting a good turnout.

Yip, Cruz reflect on ‘lots of good memories’ as curtain comes down on Macau racing

“I think it will be chockers this Saturday. The people will come to say farewell and watch the last race,” he said.

Lau is unsure what is next, but trainers and stable staff won’t just be downing tools after Saturday’s meeting, with horses permitted to remain on site until March 2025 while the rehoming process is finalised.

“At the moment I don’t know what is next,” he said. “I will stay at the stable and make sure the horses are looked after. We’re not just removing some furniture from a house – these are live animals and it’s going to take time and effort. Once they are all dispersed, my job will be done.”

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