The Fast-Rising Horse Racing Culture in Asia
  • # Keiba blog
English-speaking nations lead the global horse racing industry. With the economic shift in the 21st century, the door has been opened for Asian countries.

Horse racing is still at a peak in the sports industry. As one of the oldest existing sporting events in the world, it is quite remarkable to look back on its long track record. To sum up its success, all we can say is that it doesn’t falter nor is overshadowed by other ascending sports today. 


If there is any, it is lauded for maintaining the tradition yet at the same time fitting easily with modern technology. With huge prizes that amount to millions of US dollars, participants that range from elite societies to royal families, thoroughbred breeding, jockeys, and millions of fans that bet on races, horse racing is more of an industry itself.


In the eyes of spectators, it is a leisure activity. As for jockeys, it is both a passion and a profession. When it is viewed in an economic sense, it is a tool for both local and global economic growth. It helps provide employment opportunities, increase annual tax revenue, boost tourism and raise local retail sales.


The question now is, do you know which countries play a huge part in horse racing’s long-standing history and success? The lead of English-speaking countries is, without a doubt, a resounding fact. Now with the 21st century’s economic shift, the door has been opened for Asian countries to take the reins. On this page, let’s shift the spectrum and see the fast-rising culture of horse racing in Asia.


Horse racing in Asia


Most horse racing beginners often begin with the big ones like Great Britain’s Royal Ascot and the U.S.’ Kentucky Derby. While there is no harm when starting in those grand leagues, it just so happens that the majority tend to overlook the other side of the world.

True horse racing fans are the ones who do their research. If you are among that population, you must bear in mind that Asia is one of the sport’s most progressive markets. Later on this page, you would be surprised to see its spectacle.

Hong Kong and India are two of the major cornerstones of the industry. Given its colonial background — both being former British colonies — it is actually not a surprise of how and why the sport is so grand. 


By country


Out of the 48 countries in Asia, here are the following states where horse racing is legalised and distinguished either regional or nationwide. See if your homeland is included and check how it is keeping up.



Armenia is a growing equestrian destination. At the pinnacle of its growing community and state-of-the-art training, centres is the 85-hectare horse racing hippodrome called Hovik Hayrapetyan Equestrian Centre.

While opened in 2001, the country’s equestrian sport dates back to the 1950s. All of its domestic and regional races are currently subject to the Federation of Equestrian Sport of Armenia (FEA). 



Horse racing in Bangladesh is not that quite celebrated throughout the country. Its distinct annual race, however, is the three-day-long Chalan Beel Horse Race that takes place in the Chalan Been region. The race is yearly organised during Boishakh. To the locals, it is more of a festival than a competition because horse racing has long been embedded in their rural heritage. If you happen to visit the place, you will find a vibrant village fair marking the start of the event.



With China’s current government system, gambling-style horse racing is still a dream. In fact, all forms of gambling entertainment are illegal. While the country has legal horse racing obstacles, the horse racing lottery industry is only available in Hong Kong and Macau. These two special administrative regions are the ultimate gambling havens for Chinese and foreign gamblers alike.


Hong Kong 

Horse racing is a different beast in Hong Kong. It rules supreme among the many eminent and watched sports. Across several published market research articles, it is often mentioned as one of the key players in the global horse racing market. Its Hong Kong Jockey Club, along with Macau Jockey Club, coincides with other big names in the West, such as Bwin, Ladbrokes Coral, and William Hill.


Owing to Great Britain’s introduction of the sport, Hong Kong has over 150 years of horse racing history. With the establishment of the Hong Kong Jockey Club in 1884 also came the beginning of its official racing. It is one of the oldest institutions in the region known as a non-profit group that organises horse racing events and oversees the betting system.


At present, Hong Kong has more than 30 horse races. The most notable ones covering glitz and glamour as well as impressive purses are as follows:

  1. National Day Cup
  2. Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Day
  3. Longines International Jockeys’ Championship
  4. Lucky Start (Chinese Club Challenge Cup)
  5. Hong Kong Derby
  6. Hong Kong International Races



Today, Macau is tantamount to the term gambling. This region doesn’t just take the reins but instead reigns over the global gambling industry. Just in 2006, it has since dethroned the U.S.’ Las Vegas.

While horse racing in Macau isn’t as much exalted and historic like in Hong Kong, its Macau Jockey Club (MJC) concurs with other resounding names in the West. At present, it is among the largest private employers in the region, with no less than 1,000 employees, including part-timers.

The MJC has quite a number of prestigious races scheduled all year round. Like Hong Kong, these events invite international horses and jockey to compete for millions of dollars worth of purses. From Macau Derby to the Director’s Cup, all events are held in Taipa Racecourse, Taipa Island. It has an area of 450,000 square meters, thereby welcoming over 18,000 spectators.



India is another country with a long, dark history of horse racing, with an age of at least 200 years old. The activity was first introduced when it was a British colony. While India’s love for cricket is unchallenged, no one could erase the fact of the country’s historic horse racing background. Now, it has grown to be a very well established place for both horse racing and breeding industries.

The country has several races conducted by different racing authorities and clubs. Most of its major races are collectively called ‘Classic’ races. They were designed to shadow after the British Classics, which are five long-term G1 horse races. India’s classics are as follows:

  1. Indian 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas
  2. Indian Oaks
  3. Indian Derby
  4. Indian St. Leger

Unlike Hong Kong and Macau, horse race betting is heavily prohibited in India. That is because the sport is based on skills and not luck. Now, succeeding states have enacted laws allowing licensed bookmakers. 



Following Hong Kong, Japan is another impressive Asian country in horse racing. It is estimated to have more than 21,000 horse races scheduled per year. The most popular types of racing are flat racing, jump racing, and Ban’ei (draft) racing.


Japan may not have been colonised by Britain nor any Western powers, but around the 1860s, the first horse race in a European format was organised by a group of British residents outside the Yokohama treaty port. Following its rapid spread and acceptance from the royal families was the growth of thoroughbred breeding and racing industries.


With the close and supporting relationship between the two groups, the Japan Racing Association (JRA) was formally established in 1954. Then in 1962, the National Association of Racing (NAR) followed. 


Under the control of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, both JRA and NRA are two of the highest governing bodies that manage racecourses, betting systems and facilities, and horse-training centres. 


The former oversees 10 prominent horse racing events at 10 major racecourses, whereas the latter is responsible on a local scale. The NRA is also in control of licensing authority for local racing trainers and jockeys across the country. 


This joint system alone is unique to Japan. It is an initial factor as to why the horse racing industry is a staggering success. By that, we only mean that the country is home to some of the richest races and racehorses in the world. 


In support of the latter case, the Japanese breeding sector is one of a kind — a bit restrictive in a sense. Before the early 90s, horses that were not bred in the country or didn’t come from a Japanese sire were barred from various major races. The trend changed after imported stallions, namely, Italy’s Tony Bin and the U.S.’ Brian’s Time and Sunday Silence (the leading sire in Japan from 1995 to 2007), started a streak of outstanding wins.


Races are seasonal. They are run in the spring, autumn, and winter. The most awaited in the calendar is the Japan Cup. Despite its short history, it established itself as an invitational event, attracting winners from North America, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, France, Germany, and Italy. Now at its 41st running, it boasts a purse with a booming price worth US$5.9 million.


Along the lines of HKJC and MJC, JRA created Japan Cup (and other global-centred races) to open an opportunity for local racehorses to compete against horses of an international calibre. Stakes, bets, and winners aside, the cause is to promote goodwill within the global racing community. In support of this objective, other awaited major races are as follows:


Japanese Triple Crown

  1. Satsuki Sho
  2. Tokyo Yushun
  3. Kikka Sho


Japan Autumn International Series

  1. Queen Elizabeth II Cup
  2. Mile Championship
  3. Japan Cup
  4. Champions Cup


Prelim races for the U.S.’ Kentucky Derby

  1. Cattleya Sho
  2. Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun
  3. Hyacinth Stakes
  4. Fukuryu Stakes



In Southeast Asia, the Philippines’ horse racing history is more than 150 years old. Unlike the above-mentioned countries, its influence came from its former colonisers, Spain and the U.S. With different cultures and eras came the mixed, varying impact in horse races and breeding industries.

Two of the highest and oldest race clubs are the Manila Jockey Club, Inc. (one of the oldest existing in the Asia-Pacific region) and Philippine Racing Club, Inc. They are notably well-known for their long-standing competition against each other.


South Korea

South Korea also shares quite a long history of horse racing, dating back to May 1898. Due to its rough history, notably World War II and the Korean War, this country is commendable for restoring and keeping its horse racing tradition alive. Now, the Korea Racing Authority (KRA) is at its best efforts following the footsteps of Japan as well as modelling Hong Kong’s system.


The country’s most popular and much-awaited are the Korea Sprint (now worth US$890,000) and Korean Cup (US$623,000). The KRA shared its plans to rain the pruses to around US$1-2 million by 2022.


Horse racing is Britain’s long-lasting social and cultural phenomenon


The concept and practice of Asia’s usage of equine species for farming and transport started centuries ago. That said, the birth of the social and cultural institutions of horse racing wasn’t until the arrival, influence, and organization of Great Britain.


Horse racing is Great Britain’s first and long-lasting spectator sport, with a history that dates back to many centuries. Its enduring attraction and tradition only show the country’s strong presence on a global stage. That is why after several decades, most established races are often deemed as festivals.


Given its sheer quality and global prestige, Henham Strategy, a UK-based strategy consultancy, pointed out that Britain’s horse racing and other notable sports are ‘soft power assets’. By that, they mean firm platforms that can potentially increase awareness and understanding on a global scale. When relationships are built and barriers are broken down, those referred ‘assets’ can, therefore, help secure diplomatic and commercial objectives. 


Although this latent potential is far from being used by the U.K. Government, the above-named cases between the long-term partnerships of different countries’ horse racing institutions are already prime examples of Britain’s influence. That is, promoting goodwill in an already diverse global community.


Then again, the 21st century shows strong signs of China, India, and Japan’s rising economic growth and progressive political views. Britain may have shared with us the passion and beauty of horse racing, but we are certain of the possibility of Asia’s global presence as well.