- Ho, the co-owner of the racehorse, has become hate figure for Hong Kong’s anti-government protesters after he publicly defended those involved in Yuen Long station attack on July 21
- Decision to stop racing Hong Kong Bet comes a day after the Jockey Club cancelled a race meeting over political unrest for the first time ever
A hate figure for Hong Kong's anti-government protesters has suspended his horse from races until the ongoing social unrest ends for the sake of the city's "long-term stability and tranquillity".
Outspoken pro-establishment lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu and the co-owners of Hong Kong Bet announced they would stop racing the horse a day after the Jockey Club cancelled a race meeting at Happy Valley just hours before it was meant to start on Wednesday night.
The Jockey Club cited fears anti-government protesters, and any potential response to them, could compromise the safety of staff, customers and horses.
"After a discussion with the co-owners, we have decided to suspend Hong Kong Bet from racing until the social unrest stops, for the sake of the healthy development of horse racing in Hong Kong and the city's long-term stability and tranquillity," Ho said in a statement on Thursday afternoon.
"The horse is innocent, we shouldn't deprive Hong Kong Bet's right to run because of its outstanding performance," he said.
"We are talking about human rights every day. But animals also have their fundamental rights."
The racing schedule had been unaffected by the social chaos engulfing the city in recent months, but that changed when Hong Kong Bet was down to run.
A Jockey Club source on Thursday said they noted internet users planned to besiege the course at Happy Valley on Wednesday night when Hong Kong Bet was due to run.
"We were concerned about the impact on traffic and the safety of staff, punters and horses," the source said.
There were also concerns about other potential protests around Causeway Bay, which would have affected people getting to and from the races.
The Jockey Club source said they were concerned about hundreds of football fans forming a human chain at Victoria Park, which is close to Happy Valley, on Wednesday and calls for those fans to move to the racetrack afterwards.
The Jockey Club confirmed on Wednesday it called Ho to talk about the situation, but from the outset he was adamant his horse would run.
But Ho, in a statement posted on Facebook, said that in a telephone conversation with the head of stables, the staffer "had neither asked us to withdraw Hong Kong Bet from the race nor gave any hints that the night meeting might be cancelled in the event it was insisted that Hong Kong Bet run" in the race.
Asked whether the Jockey Club had asked Ho or his co-owners to withdraw Hong Kong Bet from the race on Wednesday, a spokesman said it would not comment on any private conversations with its stakeholders.
Ho became a hate figure among protesters after he publicly defended the white-clad men who attacked demonstrators and commuters in Yuen Long MTR station on July 21. Ho was filmed shaking hands with the men and thanking them, though it was unclear what for.
The Jockey Club had earlier cited its attempts to remain neutral when denying a campaign to revoke Ho's membership and withdraw Hong Kong Bet from all future races.
While race meetings in Hong Kong had been abandoned before because of typhoons and equine influenza, this was the first time political and civil unrest had forced a cancellation.
The Jockey Club source said he was confident a race meeting scheduled in Sha Tin on October 1 to mark National Day and the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China could go ahead if no "special or hot topic" arose.
"We will step up security arrangements and monitor the development closely," the source said.
According to the Jockey Club's standard practice, the club's risk assessment team will assess the situation on the day of a race meeting to decide whether it can go ahead.
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