Kiwis in exciting Chinese venture

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Des Friedrich and Robbie Hewetson

A couple of New Zealanders are at the coalface helping develop an exciting new venture in China. Des Friedrich, who has a wealth of Australasian experience in thoroughbred administration, and Robbie Hewetson, a former assistant trainer, have been employed to help with the racing management of a state-of-the-art racecourse at Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia.

Friedrich, who has been appointed the CEO of Racing, and Hewetson, the Senior Racing Steward, arrived at Hohhot on May 8 and the venue was officially opened with the China Inner Mongolia Horse Racing and the 6th Inner Mongolia International Equestrian Festival on June 29. “It truly is a world-class facility and it really impressed everyone,” Hewetson said. “It’s a brand new track which has been built within the last couple of years. “There’s a 2200m grass track, a sand track of 1750m and it’s a lot like Sha Tin. It’s the same profile and there’s stabling for 348 horses at this stage.

The Inner Mongolia Racecourse is located in the north suburb of Hohhot and has the largest scale in Asia, covering an area of 320,000 square metres. It is a combined venture under the name Mengxing Rider by an Inner Mongolian Government company, which owns 51 percent, and Mr Lin Lang, the Inner Mongolia Rider Horse principal known as “Mr Wolf,” whose company has the other 49 percent. The development of horse racing is also a convenient way to keep alive the heritage of horses and related culture among the Mongolian ethnic group, which used to rely on the animal for transport and survival, Lang said.

With stints as Secretary of the Egmont Racing Club and Counties Racing Club and chief executive of Hawke’s Bay Racing and the same roles in Australia at Darwin and Alice Springs, Friedrich was looking to ease into semi-retirement when the opportunity arose to help steer the Hohhot ship. “The offer came out of the blue and it’s a challenge too good to pass up,” he said. “It cost NZ$250 million to set up and the infrastructure is unbelievable. “As well as the racecourse, there is a horse arena alongside a function centre. Truly, it has everything.”

The six-story grandstand also caters for accommodation with approximately 100 hotel rooms and the racetrack has already proved a winner. “The horses broke 58 seconds for 1000m on the sand. That’s how good it is,” Hewetson said. “I’m impressed by the class of thoroughbreds up here. There are some very well-bred types who would be good enough to be in Hong Kong. “There are some high-priced yearling purchases racing up here. The breeding of many of them is as good as you get.”

The racecourse has been built to cater for all breeds of horses and, of the thoroughbreds, Friedrich said close to 95 percent of them are New Zealand-bred. Though racing officially began for the weekend of June 29-30, the next racemeeting is not until August 3 and racing will then be held each Saturday and Sunday through to early October. “We’ve just had an equine festival, which is a bit like the Olympic Games over here. It’s huge and was a big success,” Hewetson said. “When we have our own racemeetings, the Saturday is for thoroughbreds and the Sunday for standardbreds, home-breds and other horses. There are six races each day with a maximum of 14 runners per race.”

A rating system has been created along with a simplified Rules of Racing and the prizemoney has been set for the major races. “The Group 1 races will be run for the New Zealand equivalent of $225,000 and the Group 2s for $110,000,” Hewetson said. “All the horses have to be registered to come here. It’s a professional operation and has the potential to be huge.”

Hewetson’s experience within the thoroughbred industry includes running Mike Moroney’s satellite stable at Randwick as well as stints working for Paul O’Sullivan and Singapore trainer Mark Walker. “I was originally coming to Hohhot to take up a training position when I was asked to be a Steward instead,” he said. It’s something new and a great experience for me. Being here from the start I can see how big this can become. “As it grows there will be more demand for horses. The wealthy Chinese businessmen will be buying more to be involved.”

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