Shanghai Race Club heritage in That’s Shanghai magazine

December 19, 2011

The Shanghai Race Club – written by Ned Kelly

Slap bang in the middle of International Settlement and at the heart of high society on what is now People’s Square used to lie a huge racecourse. Opened in 1862 it was actually the third incarnation of the track, moving westward and increasing in size as it went. And what a size it was – a twelve-acre plot paid for by residents’ contribution that curved round from Nanjing Lu to what is now Huangpi Lu, down to Yan’an Lu and back up Xizhang Lu.

Such was its social importance that banks and businesses would close after eleven o’clock in the morning for ten days during the big biannual racing meets. Here the thunder of hooves on turf would draw huge crowds of punters, bookmakers, trainers, scalpers and socialites. Ownership of a winning horse was one way for the socially ambitious to make their mark. Banker, businessman, hotelier and all-round bon vivant money bags Sir Victor Sassoon, who had owned successful stables in the United Kingdom and India (“There is only one race greater than the Jews,” he once famously mused “and that’s the Derby.”) wasted no time in buying up the best China ponies and would make sure he had the best seats at race meets and a fine filly of his own on his arm (another of his great passions).

The large inside field was used as an all-purpose recreational area where a diverse set of sports were played from cricket to football, tennis, golf, polo and baseball, while outside a bridle path was where the well-heeled would take their ponies for morning runs. March 1934 saw the new Shanghai Race Club open in what is now theShanghaiArt Museumand Kathleens 5. The grandstand was thought at the time to be largest in the world while the clubhouse, with its marble staircases, teak paneled rooms, oak parquet floors and its coffee room – which was 100 feet by 47 feet with a huge fireplace – was as sumptuous as any in the world.

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