The Jockey Club will spare no expense to minimise Covid-19 risks during the biggest week on its calendar, footing a bill of over HK$4 million to charter private jets to fly in jockeys, trainers and stable staff for the Hong Kong International Races.
The six overseas jockeys heading to Hong Kong for the International Jockeys’ Championship on December 9 will board two private planes, with the Jockey Club independently testing pilots and flight attendants for Covid-19.
“If you want to have such an event you have to try to eliminate as much risk as you can. And travel is a risk,” Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
“We do everything to mitigate and minimise risk. There is a residual risk but I think it is very manageable.”
All connections will work from within a bubble once in Hong Kong, where they will be shuttled from their quarantine hotel to the racetracks without interacting with the general population.
Jockeys Ryan Moore, Tom Marquand, Hollie Doyle and William Buick will depart Heathrow in London and French pair Pierre-Charles Boudot and Mickael Barzalona will take off from Paris, with both flights to arrive on December 7.
“There are a couple of considerations. One is, certainly so far as the jockeys are concerned, the greater certainty of arrangements because we have seen commercial flights being cancelled,” said Jockey Club executive director of racing Andrew Harding.
“A chartered flight has the added benefit that we have certainty around when they’re leaving and when they’re going to arrive here. That’s a major advantage.
“And it’s an element of the arrangements we’re making with the charter groups we’re using that we’ll have that [Covid-19] testing in place.”
The Jockey Club will also charter flights for most trainers and stable staff coming to Hong Kong, although commercial travel was not completely avoidable.
“What we’ve also done, having in mind there is some level of uncertainty around the availability of commercial flights and flights being changed on short notice, is make provisions for chartered flights for all connections,” Harding said.
“In many cases that’s been taken up but there are a couple of instances where, because of their domestic arrangements and timing in terms of loading of the horses and other commitments, it’s been more convenient for them to manage it by commercial flights.
“But we’re confident because of the way they’ve managed it that they too will have pretty much certainty that they will be able to make their flights in time.”
While there were some Japanese owners hopeful of making the trip to Hong Kong, Harding confirmed there will be no overseas owners at Sha Tin come international day on December 13.
“They were really intent on it but they would be required to quarantine in Hong Kong and there was the double whammy of when they go back they have to do quarantine as well. Also the Japan Cup is coming up, so understandably they ultimately decided not to come,” he said.
Horses from Japan, Ireland, France and Singapore will tackle the locals across the four Group One races.