Horse Racing
Staffing at Jockey Club’s new Conghua Training Centre relies on decades of Hong Kong experience

23/11/2017 16:58

The Hong Kong Jockey Club’s new Conghua Training Centre (CTC) on the Chinese Mainland has opened new frontiers for the organisation. As a result, the Club has called on a number of its most experienced Hong Kong-based managers to make the move to Conghua, as well as recruiting well-qualified field leaders from abroad, as CTC becomes another extension of the Club’s Racing Operations model.

“The overall objective is to have a workforce that can instill confidence in trainers and in Owners,” says Ms Christina Chan, the Club’s Head of Human Resources Operations for Racing and Conghua. “This is a dual-site model – Conghua will operate as another aspect of what we already have in place in Hong Kong. As a result, many of our most experienced staff have become involved in the CTC project.”

Among those that are now based primarily in Conghua are Director of Racing Capital Projects John Ridley, the Club’s long-standing former Director of Racing Operations, as well as Jackson Wong, now the Racing Operations and Tracks Manager at CTC, reporting to the Head of Dual Site Operations and Owners Services, KL Cheng. Also taking Conghua into their remit is Head of Veterinary Clinical Services Dr. Chris Riggs, while experienced Stables Operations Manager Tony Shea will also move to CTC.

“Jackson has come through the system in Hong Kong and was deployed to Conghua two years ago,” Ms. Chan said. “He has recruited a local team and will oversee the tracks and stables operation functions. On the veterinary side, we have identified a senior expatriate vet to take charge and a second experienced expatriate vet to support him. The master farrier has also been recruited from overseas.

“We have a good overlay of overseas experience and Hong Kong experience managing the local workforce, so Owners and trainers can feel comfortable that the Conghua workforce is in the right hands.”

Also important for the nine trainers who will switch to a dual-site operation next year is their support staff.

“The nine trainers have already appointed their assistants, to be known as Conghua ATs,” Ms. Chan said. “These were recruited from existing AT IIs, head lads or senior work riders in Hong Kong. Each trainer also has a head lad and a work rider recruited from Hong Kong, while we are also hiring five or six expert work riders from abroad who will be shared between the trainers.”

When CTC opens in August 2018, a workforce of over 400 will be in place. Of those, 150 will work in stable operations, including almost 40 work riders, nine travelling grooms and more than 100 stables assistants.

“To find and train the right people, recruitment started over two years ago. It has been a long process,” Ms Chan said. “We needed to identify venues in China to conduct our training for the stable workforce. To support the recruitment of work riders and stable assistants the Club entered into a partnership with the Guangdong Sports Bureau in Huangcun, near Guangzhou, a facility similar to the Hong Kong Sports Institute, and a riding school in Huizhou.”

The biggest early challenge facing the Racing Operations and Human Resources departments lay in recruiting work riders from the Chinese Mainland, while recruitment for stables assistants is now underway.

For work riders, there has been a desire to identify both experienced and novice candidates to eventually work at CTC.

Applicants for work rider positions undergo fitness assessments in early 2016.
Applicants for work rider positions undergo fitness assessments in early 2016.

Applicants for work rider positions undergo fitness assessments in early 2016.

“Riders have taken up the bulk of our time,” Ms Chan says. “We are very serious in producing the right calibre of riders, those that are competent and adhere to our standards. In 2015, we recruited 10 experienced riders from the Chinese Mainland, typically former jockeys. They spent a short period at Huizhou before coming to Sha Tin at the start of 2016 to learn the Hong Kong way, attached to the Stables under the direct supervision of our trainers.

“Then we started what we call our Chinese Mainland intake for those looking to become work riders, those without experience. Out of over 1500 applicants, we had a shortlist of around 500 based on a paper screening. From there, they underwent a fitness test, and then they went through a stable orientation assessment program.

“Eventually, they were narrowed down to 25, and as they have progressed through their training they have been deployed to trainers in Hong Kong. Feedback from those trainers has been incredibly positive.”

The work rider training program is a multi-step process which ensures that, when they begin to work with the Hong Kong horse population at Conghua, they arrive with sufficient experience.

The next stage of recruitment is focused on stables assistants, a more introductory role in the racing ecosystem, with over 1500 applications received for approximately 100 vacancies. Training for selected candidates begins in early 2018 at Huangcun.