DUBAI // When Ambitious Dragon, California Memory and Xtension step on to the track at Meydan Racecourse for Saturday night's Group 1 Dubai Duty Free, fans in Hong Kong will be watching.
Those three horses - along with three others representing the former British colony on Saturday night's Dubai World Cup card - are popular with Hong Kong racing fans, who will be watching live despite the four-hour time difference.
Hong Kong fans have a strong appetite for horse racing. Just over five million adults reside there, and the region's two racecourses, Sha Tin and Happy Valley, attract two million fans each year.
Part of what attracts them is live television coverage of racing from Dubai. The Hong Kong Jockey Club is restricted to 15 days of international simulcasting per year, but they were so keen to take this year's Dubai World Cup meeting that they dropped the Breeders' Cup, the two-day meeting in America that is styled stateside as the world championships.
Hong Kong took live pictures from Meydan's Super Saturday on March 10, and despite a time-zone differential which results in tonight's Dubai Duty Free being run at 12.25am (tomorrow) there, live coverage will be available on three television channels and two radio stations.
"When you look at Hong Kong, horse racing is so far the leading spectator sport it is hard to say what would be No 2," said Bill Nader, the executive director of racing at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. "So you can imagine what the coverage is like when our best horses invade Dubai."
The Dubai Duty Free is the first race in the international calendar for horses that can operate from between 1,600 metres to 2,000 metres. From there the jamboree rolls on to Hong Kong and then Singapore and if you are lucky enough to have the right horses, with the right constitution, you can go to Europe and America before it all starts again in the autumn in Japan.
"In this region here we set our schedules to Hong Kong," said Frank Gabriel, the chief executive of the Dubai Racing Club. "We want their horses to come and the right sort of horses are there.
"It's a fantastic circuit and more people should look at it. Trainers like Mike De Kock, Luca Cumani and Michael Bell have realised this and it is very profitable for them."
All three trainers are represented tonight, with Cumani's Presvis looking to defend the title he won last year in such style.
As an illustration of how profitable it can be to go to Asia: after tonight's race, Presvis has earned more prize-money than any horse ever trained in Britain, despite running there in only nine of his 27 starts. Presvis traded blows with Wigmore Hall, trained by Bell, in both Dubai and Singapore last year and despite beating him into third at Meydan, Wigmore Hall leads the head-to-head 3-1.
De Kock has two runners with Musir, who was seventh in last season's World Cup, and Mutahadee, who was third in the Jebel Hatta on March 10.
The Dubai Duty Free features horses trained in six countries. Ambitious Dragon, Hong Kong's horse of the year, needs to prove he can live up to his huge reputation on his first trip abroad. His fans at home will be staying up into the night counting on it.
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