The Queen’s eldest grandchild is taking a gamble on whether Beijing will one day legalise betting on horse racing by becoming involved in an effort to push the sport into China.
Peter Phillips last week joined an international delegation of business leaders and diplomats at the official establishment of the China Jockey Club (CJC), a body intended to “oversee the development of the sport” in the country.
The club said it had the support of the Chinese government. However, Asian horse-racing insiders have described the move as “wholly surprising”, and amounting to a huge gamble on whether Beijing will one day legalise on- or off-track betting.
The CJC, for whom Mr Phillips will be paid in shares as a “global ambassador”, claims a number of high-level partners in the venture, including the British Horseracing Association (BHA). It plans to hold races in Beijing and Shanghai next year.
Unless the Chinese authorities have a dramatic change of policy, neither of those meetings will involve betting — the key element in creating popularity and investment in a sport that could generate billions in revenues. Gambling is strictly controlled in China.
Racing sources in Hong Kong and Japan said that the sudden emergence of the CJC was a surprise and questioned the claim that it had been approved from on high. Sources also questioned how closely the BHA and other partners were involved in the CJC at this stage.
President Xi Jinping’s austerity campaign has targeted many “excessive” activities and injected a fear among officials of being seen with luxury goods. Horse racing has long been criticised by the Chinese authorities for its bourgeois image, and previous attempts to establish the sport have floundered for that reason.
Even if Beijing did officially endorse horse-racing and betting, racing sources said that it would take time to establish trust in Chinese vets and breeding farms.
Some investors, gambling that China will eventually allow horse racing have already built elaborate racing tracks around the country. They have not been used for regular racing, however, and some are falling into delapidation.