Horse racing officially began in Vietnam with the formation of the Saigon Horse Racing Association in 1893. It was a sport dominated by French military officers. The racecourse was built in the centre of the city and racing continued until the advent of the First World War. In 1920, racing resumed and due to the sport's increasing popularity, a new race track was built in 1932 in Phu Tho district and it still stands today. Racing stopped during the Second World War and re-started after the war with local Vietnamese management. It continued until Saigon was liberated in 1975. With unification and a socialist government which prohibited gambling, racing became unlawful and the race course was turned into a Sports and Education college.
On March 11 1989, the race course was restored and placed under management of Sports and Gymnastics Office of Ho Chi Minh city. Ever since then, races have been run regularly on Saturday and Sunday. In 2000, city government established Phu Tho Sports Club as a state owned enterprise with seperate legal entity to organize and promote horse racing. The Club is managed by officials who are appointed ny Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism. The Department is controlled by People Committee of Ho Chi Minh city which reports to the Prime Minister. This club is sanctioned by the state. In addition to racing, the club's ground is also used as a football training ground for local teams and community events.
In 2004, Thien Ma Company Limited secured a Business Cooperation Contract (BCC) with Phu Tho Sports Club to jointly manage the horse racing track. Facility was renovated and upgraded. The "new race course" was unveiled in February 2005 as Saigon Racing Club. It has been under joint operation since July 2004.
Horses and Classification
Majority of horses racing are locally bred ponies. Owners are mostly residents of farming district around Ho Chi Minh City who have been involved in racing from colonial days. They are also enthusiastic breeders of these ponies and have been the backbone of racing since it was revived. On race day, horses are brought to the race course from farms and returned after races. Ponies are categorized based on measurement exercise conducted once a year. They are classified according to their height and divided into classes. The ponies carry fix weight in races and are not handicapped. Horses finishing in first four places of each race are entitled to prize money. Horse population has increased in recent years as owners and breeders respond to better facilities and incentives. For 2008 racing season, total number of ponies registered for racing is 861 and the number is expected to increase to 1000 in 2009.
Racing, Training and Stewarding
Races are held every Saturday and Sunday with the exception of lunar New Year weekend. Number of races has increased with the increase in horse population and the club now organizes 9 races on each race day. Races are run over a dirt track 1,650 metre in length and 20 metre in width. Common distances ran rare 1000 metre, 1,100 metre, 1,200 metre, 1,250 metre, 1,500 metre and 1,800 metre. Owners engage riders from a list approved by the club. Riders are trained locally and must be approved by stewards of Saigon Racing Club before given permission to ride. Young people aged 14 and above can apply to be trained as a jockey.
Saigon Racing Club has a seven-member stewarding panel. The panel reviews race footage after each race. Inquiries are conducted in the event of irregularities. Disqualifications are handed down to jockeys for serious caes while suspensions are meted out for lesser offences. Veterinary surgeons conduct checks on runners prior to racing but no drug testing is conducted. Runner is withdrawn if veterinary surgeon certified the horse unfit for racing.
Betting System is from Australia and supplied by TABCORP. The system supports Win, Place, Exacta, Quinella, Trifecta, Quartet and other bet types. Currently, 100 betting terminals are in operation on race day. Betting odds and racing information are displayed on in-house CCTV system using 100 TV monitors. Win, Exacta, Trifecta, Quartet and Superfecta pools are offered. Unit bet is 10,000 dong (approximately US$0.60 per unit bet). Daily turnover is approximately US$120,000.00.
Betting turnover has increased significantly with computerization and introduction of exotic pools. Customers have shown sophistication and shrewdness in their betting behaviour. The club is confident that betting turnover will continue to grow.
When Thien Ma Company Limited signed Business Co-operation Contract with Phu Tho Sports Club in 2003 to invest and improve horse racing in Vietnam, part of the plan is to introduce thoroughbred racing and bring Vietnam into the Asian Racing Federation. To achieve that, 40 thoroughbred horses were imported by Thien Ma from Australia in 2004 and thoroughbred races introduced in 2005. One thoroughbred race is run per week. Races are run on handicap and horses are not classified. The maximum weight thoroughbred horses carry is 60kg. Weights are allocated based runner's performances. Thoroughbred horses are stabled on site and trained by expatriate. At present, ten thoroughbred horses have been acquired by local owners and eight ex-pony riders have been trained to ride thoroughbred races. The response of racing public to thoroughbred racing is good but lukewarm from existing owners due to the lack of local supply of thoroughbred race horses, high cost of upkeep, lack of knowledge and facility to keep and train thoroughbred horses. Current betting turnover is insufficient to support the cost of full-scale thoroughbred racing. In addition, a training centre outside the city is needed to house and train more thoroughbred horses. It will take a few more years for this to happen.
Over the last four years, number of horses racing has increased from 487 to 861 and betting turnover doubled from approximately USD 5.5 million to USD 11 million. Racing has improved in general but remains amateurish compared to other racing jurisdictions around the region and a lot more work needs to be done and regulatory issues overcome. Thien Ma Company is in discussion with the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism to work outnew arrangement that allows further investment and stronger management to bring horse racing to a higher level. Joining Asian Racing Federation will bring international exposure to local racing officials and owners; upgrade their knowledge and help more Vietnam into the international racing system.
Name of Racing Authority: Thien Ma Entertainment Joint Stock Company - Saigon Racing Club
Postal Address: 2, Le Dai Hanh Street, District 11, Ho Chi Minh City, VIETNAM
Tel: (84) 90 3666 433
Deputy Director: Mr Hoang Quoc Bao
Chairman and CEO:Mr. Nguyen Ngoc My
Mobile phone: (84) 90 9295 669