The New Chinese Equestrian and Racecourse Model
As China becomes wealthier, and people look for new ways to spend their greater disposable income, equestrian sports are developing. They are a status symbol or fascination for the rich, but there is also a growing interest in the sport at a grass roots level. All over China, new privately funded equestrian centres are springing up and in regions where the horse culture is strong, such as Inner Mongolia in northern China, the growth is particularly noticeable. As equestrian designers this is translating into interesting work. My colleague based in Beijing, Tiric Chang, explains, it has also led to a growing interest in the horse racing industry generally…….
Inner Mongolia is an ideal setting for a growing investment in horse racing and equestrian sport. It has a centuries old horse culture, a mild climate and is only an hour’s plane flight from an urban population in Beijing looking for a weekend retreat. Developers are using the industry to create value; offering equestrian facilities with property development, not unlike what happens in many other parts of the western world. These developers are being encouraged by regional Government to develop horse themed residential projects which promote not only the unique qualities of a particular area, but also bring tourism to the region.
Populous is developing the masterplan for the Brother Fortune Equestrian Park in Ordos in Inner Mongolia; a 1,600 acre development incorporating a number of equestrian-themed residential villages attached to a central equestrian venue, capable of hosting special events, international competitions and the Ordos International Equestrian Festival. Each of the equestrian villages will be themed to represent a different international equestrian culture; Chinese, South American, North American, and European.
The equestrian venues will be a centre of excellence for horse breeding research and development in China, and will provide education and equistructure support, including the services, knowledge and infrastructure required to support and grow the equine industry in China.
A second smaller equestrian community is being built at Hohhot, on 330 acres. It has two equestrian centres, one a competition venue, and along with retail and entertainment will provide an attractive community facility anticipated to open in 2015.
The Clients are looking to combine the very best of international trends with an ancient industry in Inner Mongolia. These private developments have already proven to be catalysts for the development of the horse industry in North China.
Horse racing is different:
However although the interest is growing, horse racing itself is different in China compared to the West. Horse racing is a business in many countries, but in China it has been very much a sport, as gambling remains illegal (except in Hong Kong). So a racecourse has developed as a symbol of power, an icon for a city, but until now, not a commercial venture. Horse Racing is still very much a Sport of Kings. Many Chinese are expecting the Government will eventually remove the ban on gambling at the race track. But there is still a long way to go to ensure both racing integrity and IP are maintained.
But we are now working with clients in China on a new racecourse model; designing and suggesting management and funding solutions for a racecourse when it’s not about placing bets. This means designing commercial functions into the racecourse, the way we’ve done at other racecourses like the redevelopment of Ascot Racecourse in the UK.
Of course the unique experience that differentiates a day at the races from any other form of entertainment is still the racehorse itself. The strength, the poise and the beauty of the animal is what defines the racecourse. The idea is for patrons to be as close as possible to the animals whenever possible – at the parade ring, the view to the weigh-in room and most importantly the view of the racetrack. It is important to maximize the customer experience, so people are drawn in to “sense” and “see” from the moment they arrive to the point when they leave. Luxury brands are also keen supporters of the event of Horse Racing. They see it as a targeted opportunity for good exposure.
But to survive commercially racecourses, whether in China or elsewhere in the world, clients must consider what else can take place at the racecourse as multifunctionality is critical for long term viability. This includes using the racecourse for events such as conventions and exhibitions, functions and weddings, creating innovative and different revenue streams. Maybe this also includes retail or themed residential, as is the case with the Inner Mongolian equestrian projects. This, in turn enables the facility to be integrated with the community with facilities that can be used by everyone, not just on race day but during many other days of the year.
The ultimate aim with the new racecourse in China is to create a good business model so that one day a racecourse in China can be operated and managed in a self-sustainable way.