Happy Valley: The finest urban racetrack in the world
Andrew Le Jeune: “Happy Valley Racecourse is different from all of these places because it comes alive at night.”
Hong Kong has world-class horse racing. Top horses, jockeys, trainers and many other equine professionals make the city one of the foremost racing centres globally. The stages where the pulsating action takes place, Sha Tin Racecourse and Happy Valley Racecourse (HVRC), are equally key to Hong Kong’s horse racing brand. While the former is the main centre of local racing, what springs eternal in well over a century of the equine sport in the city is the unmatchable energy and charm of Happy Valley Racecourse, especially at midweek races under the lights.
Perhaps no one is better placed to compare racecourses in different parts of the world than The Hong Kong Jockey Club’s former racing programme presenter, Andrew Le Jeune, who has covered racing in England, Australia and at the Dubai World Cup meeting.
“Happy Valley Racecourse is different from all of these places because it comes alive at night. That’s when you really see the beauty of it,” says Andrew. “It's a tiny green oasis in a busy metropolis – that is the unique selling point of the track.”
No surprise then that CNN named Happy Valley as one of the world’s Top 10 Most Beautiful Racecourses in 2019, alongside other stunning horse racing locations such as Goodwood in England, Chantilly in France and Meydan in Dubai. But what sets HVRC apart is its urban setting. With a long history dating back to 1845, CNN described the venue as “a magnificent city center racecourse surrounded by giant apartments and skyscrapers -- giving visitors an unusually beautiful scenic view while watching horse racing".
Andrew loves presenting racing programmes at Happy Valley Racecourse because the venue’s relatively small size actually works to its advantage. “You are always close to everything. I present overlooking the parade ring and sit right across from the winning post. I’ve got the best seat in the house,” says Andrew.
While the pandemic is still to end in Hong Kong, the roars of the crowd will surely return. With an unbeatable atmosphere in the cauldron-like venue, racegoers are right among the action at HVRC, whether they are in the Beer Garden or high up in the grandstands for a different perspective. “As a racing programme presenter, you can work off that energy. As a spectator, with a full crowd, it really is something quite magical.”
Andrew had presented racing programmes in Hong Kong for several seasons, and he says HVRC is a challenging track for jockeys. He pinpoints the tight, quick turn after the starting gates, which demands great skill and confidence from jockeys to negotiate.
“You have to be tactically perfect. You don’t want to give away unnecessary ground,” says Andrew. “Inches can turn into yards the further you go. The smallest error could mean the difference between defeat and victory.”