08/31/2016 11:36AM

Hong Kong's season kicks off with 10-race card at Sha Tin

Hong Kong Jockey Club
The handle for the 2015-16 season exceeded $13 billion.

Racing is booming in Hong Kong, where the 2016-17 season begins on Saturday at Sha Tin Racecourse.

During the 2015-16 season that ended in July, handle reached approximately $13.6 billion on 83 days of racing, the second-highest figure in history. Attendance surpassed 2.04 million, the fourth consecutive year in which crowds went past 2 million on the circuit’s two tracks – Happy Valley, which runs on Wednesday evenings, and Sha Tin, which operates a higher-profile program primarily on Sunday afternoons.

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This year, access to Hong Kong races for North American racing fans will be easier than ever. Free past performances will be available at DRF.com/hk, and wagering is available on drfbets.com.

Past performances will be available in select evening and Las Vegas editions of Daily Racing Form beginning Saturday. Past performances for the Happy Valley program will run in Tuesday print editions, while past performances for Saturday and Sunday programs at Sha Tin will appear in Friday and Saturday p.m. editions, respectively.

Worldwide interest in Hong Kong racing is growing through the comingled pools from Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America. Average handle per race was $17 million last year.

For many Western racing fans, Hong Kong racing is synonymous with four international Group 1 races run in December, drawing runners from Europe, Japan, and Australia facing a tough group of local horses.

There is more to the 10-month season than those championship-caliber races, which will be run Dec. 11. There are Group 1 races in January and February, including stakes that play a role in the buildup to the Dubai World Cup program in the United Arab Emirates each March, as well as Group 1 races that draw international fields in April and May.

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For the season, purses will exceed $141 million, according to a statement released by the Hong Kong Jockey Club last week.

Saturday’s card at Sha Tin is more of a low-key program, with 10 handicaps at distances ranging from five to seven furlongs on turf. The program is the first of 88 days of racing for the season through early July. First post time is 1 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, or 10 p.m. Pacific on Friday.

The races drew fields ranging from 11 to 14 runners. The day’s top race is the third race, the $322,285 Chief Executive’s Cup. A handicap at six furlongs, the race drew 11 runners, including Packing Pins, who was third in the Group 1 Champions Mile at Sha Tin in May.

The field includes Dundonnell, a 6-year-old who was fourth behind George Vancouver in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita when trained by Roger Charlton of England.

Joao Moreira, the leading rider during the 2015-16 Hong Kong season, will ride Lucky Year, a 5-year-old Australian-bred gelding who has won 6 of 11 starts.