Shanghai Race Club 150 years introduction

December 19, 2011


The Shanghai Race Club (in Chinese pinyin; Shanghai Pao Ma Zong Hui) was reformed in 2008 by current Chairman, Byron Constable, from England. Constable, a fluent Chinese speaker, is a founder of one of the largest online shopping clubs in China and the company that pioneered online direct marketing on the Mainland. He leads the strategy and team behind the renewed fame of The Shanghai Race Club.

The Shanghai Race Club has a remarkable, enchanting story that is surprisingly little known; a dusty leather bound script of power, greed, principals and extravagance that seems to have fallen down the back of the bookshelf. Whilst many in Shanghai can tell you that the grandest park in downtown Shanghai is indeed the former race course, they rarely uncover much more. Go back 80 years and any random man on the street could have told you boundless stories.

The Shanghai Race Club was officially established by the British in Shanghai as a race horse owners club in 1862. The story of the SRC over the ensuing 80 years is very similar to story of The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC), both becoming the defining institutions for high society in their respective regions and towering authorities on racing. By the early 1900’s there were even specially designated races and trophies “Challenge Cups” in both cities set aside specifically for HKJC race horse owners and SRC owners to compete against one other. Rival clubs or sister clubs? Its hard to say as many of the most important  member such as Sir Ellis Kadoorie, Eric Cumine, Sir Paul Chater, The Jardines, The Toegs and The Sassoons were members of both – the later two names famous for their intense rivalry at the racecourse.

The Sassoon family known as “The Leviathan Stable” were notable for being multi-generation race horses owners at the SRC, starting with David Sassoon who owned and jockeyed horses in the late 1800’s. The racing reigns were taken over by his nephew Sir Victor Sassoon the Shanghai tycoon who carried on the family racing tradition in Shanghai from 1920’s with quite a flair.

Naturally having so many wealthy members the SRC built a bit of a reputation for the lavishness of its race days perfectly described as a “sort of three day wedding breakfast with the responsibilities”. Startling sums of the SRC money was spent on champagne and tiffin to the extent that one disgruntled member complained and demanded a vote amongst members on a motion to reduce his perceived over indulgence. Another member then pointed out that “the main pleasure of ladies coming to the race is to get something to eat” That was a cardinal point. The motion was defeated 100 votes to 4.

Aside from eccentric stories, one particularly unusual aspect of the SRC (and the HKJC) was that the club house, racecourse and many of the stables were in the center of the city, making it convenient for fanatical race horse owners to be obsessed all week with their race horses, while their counterparts in Europe had to patiently wait until their weekend jaunt to the county estate to indulge themselves. The wife of SRC member Raymond Toeg describes the concept quite elegantly; ” we would dance till 5 in the morning, and at 5.30 he was at the racecourse training his ponies. Somehow one managed to fit in running a business”

For those less familiar with Shanghai, the former SRC race course is now the Peoples Square (which is why Nanjing west road has an arc in it) and the original highly sumptuous Club house is now the Art Museum, with the fine K5 restaurant on the roof. When the club house was built the adjoining grand stand was rated as the largest in the world – testament to the significance of the SRC. The SRC as an organization closed down in the late 1940’s and was reformed in 2008.

These decadent Clubs in the far east essentially made the city based race horse owner a possibility well over a century before the invention of the internet which is now making it a possibility once again.

The SRC is now partnered with Highclere Racing in England to make city based race horse ownership possible once again in Shanghai – albeit with racehorse based in England. Highclere Racing is owned and managed by Hon. Harry Herbert and takes its name from his family castle – which you may recognize as “Downtown Abbey” from the popular tv series filmed here.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the SRC (1862 -2012)  a tour has been created with Newman tours to guide you through Shanghai as if you were a1934 high society club member, visiting seven  iconic building in Shanghai that were closely linked to the racing society lifestyle in the golden era. The Tour comes to an end at the former Shanghai Race Club building in the cafe Kathleens 5, where you can play the popular SRC souvenir board game and, if inclined, take a glass of champagne over afternoon tea.

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