02/23/2007 1:00AM

Hong Kong to bet on Breeders' Cup races


Breeders' Cup Ltd. announced Friday it has reached an agreement with Hong Kong racing authorities to offer wagering on the Breeders' Cup races in the heavy-betting island state.

The agreement, which also designates the Hong Kong Jockey Club Champions Mile as an official Breeders' Cup qualifying race, will give Breeders' Cup a foothold in the Asian betting market for the first time. Betting on horseracing in Hong Kong is astronomical by U.S. standards: in 78 days of live racing in Hong Kong last year, average handle for each racing day was in excess of $100 million.

Because of legal limitations on the number of foreign simulcasts that can be offered and a prohibition on international commingling, only two races, the Breeders' Cup Turf and Breeders' Cup Mile, are scheduled to be offered in Hong Kong this year, with wagering conducted in a separate pool. However, Hong Kong racing authorities have pledged to work with the country's legislature to roll back the current restrictions on simulcasts and commingling, according to Greg Avioli, the president of the Breeders' Cup.

"We're hopeful that the restriction on simulcasting is lifted in the next six months," Avioli said. If that happens, the entire Breeders' Cup card would be offered in Hong Kong this year, with wagering conducted in a separate pool. By the 2008 Breeders' Cup, Avioli said, prohibitions on international commingled pools would likely be lifted.

The designation of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Champions Mile, a Group 1 turf event with a purse of about $1 million, as a Breeders' Cup qualifying race allows the winner of the stakes to receive an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup Mile. Breeders' Cup announced late last year that it would designate 24 races leading up to the Breeders' Cup in 2007 as events that would give the winner an automatic berth in seven of the event's 11 races.

Breeders' Cup and the Hong Kong Jockey Club will also fund a $1 million bonus to any horse that wins both the Breeders' Cup Mile and the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile, a Group 1 race that is traditionally held in early December at Sha Tin Racecourse.