Technology allows us to do things differently but it may still come as a surprise to learn that the venerable Shanghai Race Club (SRC), which has now been revived, operates without a clubhouse, without betting, without a racecourse and, believe it or not, without horses.
Instead, the club operates a website (paoma.com) China’s online store for trying and buying racehorses – which are mainly based in Europe.
It wasn’t always this way. When the British established the SRC in 1862, the club operated several racetracks and its opulent clubhouse was considered the most expensive in the world.
The cream of Anglo-Chinese society became members and horse owners but after the Chinese Communist Party seized power, horse racing became illegal and the SRC was shut down.
The club’s old racecourse had been transformed into the People’s Square and the club building turned into the Shanghai Art Museum in the ’50s.
The brand lay dormant for 70 years until British entrepreneur Byron Constable stepped in launching a new model of virtual racing that might influence clubs globally.
Despite having been closed for more than half a century, the SRC still resonated with the Shanghainese and the newly moneyed class across the mainland – thanks in no small part to its presence in period television dramas.
For China’s super rich, Constable says the appeal of horse ownership is clear, as the SRC acts as a bridge to the famously closed society of British racing.
“The highlight of every year is Royal Ascot … We took a whole group of members – government officials and billionaires – to Royal Ascot this year and took them around to meet the aristocracy and completely embedded them in the whole culture.”
Still, the proportion of SRC members who can afford racehorses is very small – about six people who, between them, own nearly 300 horses. Another 600 are potential owners. But the majority, about 6,000 people, is what Constable describes as aspirational owners.
These are members who “do not own horses and never will own horses”, but crave the cachet that comes with ownership. To appeal to these members, he has fundamentally changed the rules of the game. He has pioneered a system where punters on the mainland can buy the ownership rights to a horse for one race. The horse’s full-time owner uses this fee to leverage against his risk and agrees to share half the prize money with the Chinese owner if the horse wins.
Bringing it’s history and prestige to bear, The Shanghai Race Club is hoping to change the face of racing and bring the Sport of Kings into the technology age.
For more information go to the Shanghai Race Club website