When the idea of a Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) training centre at Conghua was first mooted, one obvious challenge to be addressed was the transportation of horses several hours by road, back and forth across an international border. Quarantine restrictions, immigration and customs protocols, horse welfare and travel comfort, all had to be considered.
The Conghua Training Centre (CTC) is located 205km from Sha Tin, about four and a half hours by road to the northeast of Guangzhou. The Jockey Club has worked with government officials to successfully lay down customs protocols that will ensure fluidity of horse movement across the border while upholding international standards, and it has addressed questions of security, safety and comfort during transit. Hong Kong's trainers have been consulted throughout the process and have given the project their full support.
Hi-tech support and expert grooms
There is nothing new about transporting horses over long distances by road. The Sha Tin/Conghua journey, in fact, is not particularly far – roughly the distance from York to Newmarket, to take a common English route – but that international border and the fact that the only veterinary facilities are at the points of origin and destination, means that eventualities need to be covered.
Four convoys of thoroughbreds per week will travel the route – return journeys twice a week, up one day and back the next, like a routine bus service. Trainers will use a dedicated Horse Movement Information System to book horses onto a horsebox via the Club's intranet.
To ensure the safe and secure passage of horses and staff, HKJC has devised an operation that makes the Conghua /Sha Tin run perhaps one of the most up-to-date, technologically advanced and monitored horse transportation processes in the world. CCTV cameras on each horse float will record every horse during the entire journey, support cars will carry a Club vet, mechanics and security personnel, and a radio connection will be maintained. GPS technology is also being utilised to allow control centres at Sha Tin and CTC to continuously track each vehicle.
“The control centres are a critical part of the process,” says Dr. Chris Riggs, the Jockey Club's Head of Veterinary Clinical Services and a key member of HKJC's horse movement team. “Staff in these centres will check the weather and road conditions for the route in advance of each journey. Senior staff in Hong Kong will be on standby and will attend the control centre when called to provide help over the phone or scramble a response team if necessary.”
Horses in Hong Kong travelling the 30-minute or so journey from Sha Tin to Happy Valley and back for mid-week races are accompanied by their mafoos. But for the longer Conghua journey, the Club is training expert travelling grooms in first aid knowledge and teaching them to communicate any issues effectively via radio.
“We want people who really know what they are doing,” Riggs says. “They will be in constant touch with the control centres.”
Security is a prominent component of the transportation plan: it is essential to protect horse health, welfare and the integrity of racing.
The Club's horse movement working team has focused on minimizing delays at any stage of the journey, especially at the border. To that end, a customs clearing station has been built at CTC, removing the need for screening at the border crossing.
“Under routine circumstances our horseboxes will go through the border with only superficial checks, so there should be minimal delay en route,” explains Riggs.
Horses will remain enclosed in their boxes at the border crossing, and the Club has negotiated an agreement that enables all of the accompanying grooms to also remain in the horseboxes along with the driver.
The Club has carried out several trial runs along the route and those will continue right up to the opening in the third quarter of 2018.
Travelling in style
The Club has developed a new type of horsebox to make the journey more comfortable and secure for horses and grooms. Hong Kong's trainers have been fully engaged with the development of the prototype.
The new design differs radically from HKJC's current horseboxes, which transport horses and grooms together in three isolated compartments. The Conghua model places the horses in one space, subdivided by movable partitions into individual stalls; grooms travel in a separate secure compartment at the front of the horsebox where they will monitor the horses via CCTV. A small doorway provides access to the horses if necessary.
“Each horse will have its own enclosed stall yet still will be able to see, hear and smell the horse next to it,” Riggs explains. “This gives horses more space and allows them to lower their heads to the ground, which is important for their health. Generally, the horses are much more relaxed, so it's better for them for longer distance travel.”
The method is seen as an improvement for horse and groom health and safety, which is at the core of HKJC's strategy for horse movement to and from Conghua.
In keeping with the Hong Kong Jockey Club's high achievements as a world leader in horse racing, its team has worked with dedication, patience, diplomacy and foresight to reach solutions and establish workable protocols. When CTC opens next year, Hong Kong's racehorses and their grooms will enjoy a smooth and secure transit route across the Special Administrative Region's international border with China.
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