Throughout 1997 a shadow loomed over Hong Kong. After 156 years of colonial rule, the British were set to hand the territory back to China on July 1. There were news reports of Chinese troops massed at the border, and many islanders feared it would be the end of Hong Kong’s freewheeling capitalism. China tried to reassure residents that their most treasured customs would be protected. “Horse racing will continue, and the dancing parties will go on,” said Deng Xiaoping, the former Communist Party leader.
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The following year the Hong Kong Jockey Club phoned Benter at an office he’d established in Happy Valley. He winced, remembering the meaty hand of the Las Vegas pit boss on his shoulder. But instead of threatening him, a Jockey Club salesperson said, “You are one of our best customers. What can we do to help you?” The club wasn’t a casino trying to root out gamblers who regularly beat the house; its incentive was to maximize betting activity so more revenue was available for Hong Kong charities and the government. Benter asked if it was possible to place his bets electronically instead of over the phone. The Jockey Club agreed to install what he called the “Big CIT”—a customer input terminal. He ran a cable from his computers directly into the machine and increased his betting.
Organized groups dedicated to protecting animals, such as the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, target some horse sports with claims of animal cruelty. Horse racing and rodeo are most commonly targeted, due both to their high visibility and to the level of stress and potential physical dangers to the equines involved. Criticism of horse racing and its practices runs a wide gamut;[vague] however, while some may consider even fairly drastic discipline of horses non-abusive, others may consider abuse to be anything done against the will of the animal in question. Some people may consider poor living conditions or use of whip abusive, while some may have concern with end-use of horses.
Other additions, such as the number of rest days since a horse’s last race, were more successful, and in his first year after returning to Hong Kong, Benter won (as he recalls) $600,000. The next racing season, ending in the summer of 1990, he lost a little but was still up overall. He hired an employee, Coladonato, who would stay with him for years, and a rotating cast of consultants: independent gamblers, journalists, analysts, coders, mathematicians. When the volume of bets rose, he recruited English-speaking Filipinos from the ranks of the city’s housekeepers to relay his bets to the Jockey Club’s Telebet phone lines, reading wagers at the rate of eight a minute.
He went to the Gambler’s Book Club, a Vegas institution, and bought everything he could find on horses. There were lots of “systems” promising incredible results, but to him they seemed flimsy, written by journalists and amateur handicappers. Few contained real math. Benter wanted something more rigorous, so he went to the library at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, which kept a special collection on gaming. Buried in stacks of periodicals and manuscripts, he found what he was looking for—an academic paper titled “Searching for Positive Returns at the Track: A Multinomial Logit Model for Handicapping Horse Races.” Benter sat down to read it, and when he was done he read it again.
At Happy Valley’s ground level, young women in beer tents passed foamy pitchers to laughing expats, while the local Chinese, for whom gambling is a more serious affair, clutched racing newspapers and leaned over the handrails. At the crack of the starter’s pistol, the announcer’s voice rang out over loudspeakers: “Last leg of the Triple Trio,” he shouted in Australian-accented English, “and away they go!”
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The Jockey Club of Britain, founded at Newmarket about 1750, wrote its own rules of racing. In contrast to the earlier King’s Plates rules, these new rules took into account different kinds of contests involving horses of various ages and were thus more detailed. The new rules originally applied only to Newmarket, but, when the rules were printed in the Racing Calendar, they served as a model for rules throughout Britain. The Jockey Club later acquired the General Stud Book and came to control English racing in the 19th century. Its regulatory powers ended in 2006 when governance over British racing was transferred to the Horseracing Regulatory Authority. In 2007 power shifted to a new group, the British Horseracing Authority, which formed from a merger of the Horseracing Regulatory Authority and the British Horseracing Board.
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When Quarter Horse racing began, it was very expensive to lay a full mile of track so it was agreed that a straight track of four hundred meters, or one quarter of a mile, would be laid instead. It became the standard racing distance for Quarter Horses and inspired their name. With the exception of the longer, 870-yard (800 m) distance contests, Quarter Horse races are run flat out, with the horses running at top speed for the duration. There is less jockeying for position, as turns are rare, and many races end with several contestants grouped together at the wire. The track surface is similar to that of Thoroughbred racing and usually consists of dirt.