I haven’t been to the races since the summer I was 16 and my dad treated a friend and I to a day at Royal Ascot to celebrate finishing our GCSE’s. We saw the Queen, a streaker and I guess we must have seen some horse racing too but I don’t remember that!
Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong is apparently world famous, although I’d never heard of it before we came here. Well, maybe I had but I didn’t really have any reason to commit the name of any other aspect of it to memory. There’s one other race course in Hong Kong, further away from us than Happy Valley, called Sha Tin & worth mentioning only for the amusement factor of it’s name. It’s up there with Pak Tin and Chuk Yuin, favourite end of bus route destinations for Joshua, but that’s another story….
A night at the Happy Valley Races is something we’ve tried to do every time we’ve had parents come to visit us but for one reason or another, it’s never happened. I think the main reason is that it’s been a bit of a daunting prospect for me to figure out exactly how we get tickets, where we get them, what type of tickets to get etc, and like most things in Hong Kong, it’s near impossible to find a simple explanation anywhere!
So, when my friend Clare was in town, I resolved that we would have a girls night at the Races and I was going to make it happen! After some considerable internet research I discovered that the thing to do was to get a Tourist Ticket, not just a regular ground pass. This would give us access to seating, eateries, bar area and whatever else was in the Members Enclosure that the Tourist Ticket would allow us access to. I also found out that these tickets could be purchased in advance, providing you had your passport with you. So, well before Clare had even touched down in Hong Kong, my passport and I set off to the nearest designated place that sold tickets in advance (basically a bookies!) to get our tickets. Obviously I came away empty handed having been told I could only buy a ticket for myself with my passport, not for anyone else. But I was assured that there wouldn’t be large queues to deal with on the night and we could just turn up and buy the tickets then. At least now I know for next time. I did mention that I wasn’t a tourist, and flashing my Hong Kong ID card I asked if there was any other type of ticket, apart from the ground pass and the Tourist Ticket? I thought there must surely be some other kind of ticket reserved for the locals that they don’t advertise to tourists but I was just looked at as if I was stupid, waved away and was told the Tourist Ticket is the only other kind of ticket apart from a ground pass – perhaps they should think about renaming it to something that actually describes it properly then!
The night of the races arrived. We actually almost didn’t go, nearly choosing to do something else instead but we both agreed that we should definitely go, so off we set. Ten minutes later we were dropped off at what looked like the main entrance to the race ground. I didn’t have a clue where the best place for us to be dropped off was so we got out there. I knew we had to ask for the Members Entrance and we were directed to an entrance a few minutes walk away where we managed to buy our Tourist Tickets easily and then we were inside! I straight away got that excited feeling you get when you go to a pop concert or football match or any place where you pass through the turnstiles and then get a glimpse inside the stadium. Bit silly really as this wasn’t going to be a night like that!
There were 8 races that night. We’d already missed the first two so set about trying to figure out how to actually place a bet for the next race. I think in our heads we’d imagined ourselves in a room full of rich, hunky (naturally) hedge fund managers looking to have a good night and who would be only too happy to buy us a drink and show us the ropes. The reality was that we were in a room full of local men and we were just in their way! We were pretty much the only women there and apart from a sprinkling of tourists (who really were tourists!) we were the only Westerners too. Great. So we had to figure out the abbreviations and other codes on our betting slips ourselves. We cobbled something together, marched more confidently than we felt to the cashier, asked him if we’d filled the slips out right, to which we merely got a shrug and a point to the total that we needed to pay. OK – we were ready. Now to find out where we needed to go to actually see the races.
We eventually found our way to the area we should have gone straight to in the first place, got a drink and perched ourselves on some bar stools in front of a TV screen. But I didn’t want to watch it on a TV screen! In front of us were tables with comfy chairs and great views of the racecourse. A few of these were empty but I was quickly told that they were all reserved and had to be booked in advance. Another lesson for next time. I then enquired whether we could sit in the seats in the stands outside. Our tickets were numbered so I wondered whether this related to a seat number. No such luck. To get a reserved seat outside we would have to pay more money for that – I was beginning to wonder what exactly set our Tourists Passes apart from the ground passes, I was yet to find any benefits!!
But soon our first race began and we watched most of it on the TV screen but stood on our tiptoes at the end to see the horses go past us to cross the finish line that we were actually level with. Oh, and my horse won! Well, came third actually but I’d bet on a place, not to win so lovely jubbly. And the same thing happened for the next few races too – what an expert I suddenly was, tripling my stakes, shame I didn’t bet a bit more really!
After a bite to eat we headed back downstairs to the area where the ground pass holders hung out to catch a bit of the raw ground-level action. It was actually much more fun being properly close to the horses and for the last few races we were right at the front of the barrier as the horses dashed past us, just inches away.
What a fun night, lessons learnt for next time, must go back! With a world famous raceground practically on our doorstep, we really must make the most of it!