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Making money is a favorite pastime of many Hong Kongers, so it should come as no surprise that the most popular spectator sport here is horse racing — the city’s only legal form of gambling apart from the lottery, soccer (coincidentally run by the same organization, the 1884-founded Hong Kong Jockey Club) and online sports betting. Happy Valley Racecourse has been home to the sport since 1846. Races run from September to June, when thousands of punters show up on Wednesday nights to win and lose fortunes — in fact, over the course of one season, an estimated $91 million HKD passes through the course. If you’re lucky enough to be in Hong Kong in December, you can catch a variety of mega-cash payouts during the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races. The atmosphere ranges from charged to positively electrifying, but it’s not all high drama: The course is a green floodlit expanse, so if you aren't fixated on a scorecard, you can take advantage of the chance to relax in the great outdoors with one of Hong Kong’s cheapest pints.
While Happy Valley Racecourse is by far the most iconic venue in Hong Kong, the Sha Tin Racecourse (which opened in 2007) is Hong Kong’s largest racecourse and is the choice destination for serious gamblers (it's also where corporate types go to mingle and enjoy lavish spreads in the many private boxes). Hong Kong Jockey Club also oversees Sha Tin, and hosts the course's frequent international races, including the annual Hong Kong Cup. You’ll have to buy a ticket to enter Sha Tin (HK$10), and if you want to venture past the public areas it will cost you even more. Tourists can gain access to the reserved areas of the racecourse by joining a tour organized by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, which includes entrance and a buffet lunch at the Visitors’ Box.
Every year, during the last weekend of March, hordes of expats descend upon Hong Kong Stadium, claiming its 40,000 outdoor seats in the name of boozing, revelry and, occasionally, even rugby. Considered to be the most important competition in the eight-tournament IRB Sevens World Series, the Hong Kong Sevens pits 24 rugby union teams from around the world against each other. The contest’s huge popularity has resulted in the previously amateur Hong Kong team acquiring star players with professional status. Though the matches are undoubtedly exciting, the crowds are as diverting as the main event, especially at the hard-partying South Stand. If you’re more into the rugby than the crowd, a corporate box may be a better option. There is also a lively beer tent just outside the stadium with big-screen TVs for a different (yet no less lively) atmosphere for those unable to score tickets.
A large part of the British legacy lies in Hong Kong’s enduring love for sports, or “sport” as it’s called.
Horse racing reigns supreme, and you can partake in the fun for only 8 HKD. Hong Kong’s Jockey Club runs two courses from September to June, one in Happy Valley and one in Sha Tin, which together account for a full 11% of the city’s tax revenue. Even if you’re not gambling, the races are a thrill and there’s beer.
Every year, the Hong Kong Rugby 7s attracts visitors from across the globe who come to enjoy the games, but also the event’s very unique, very raucous atmosphere. It’s tradition for spectators to dress up—often in big groups—and to get very, very drunk on the pitchers of beer and Pimms sold in stadium. Groups of Oompa Loompas, Angry Birds, Borats, Pirates: all standard sights. There are celebrations held across the city, and Lan Kwai Fong transforms into a mad bacchanal.
Dragon boat racing is a less inebriated, but no less fun, way to enjoy live sports in Hong Kong. Races are held all spring, but the three-day Dragon Boat Festival commences in mid-June with races around the city.
In addition to these live events, Hong Kong is full of sports bars, particularly in Wan Chai and SoHo, where you can catch pretty much any game on TV.
Horse racing — or perhaps the gambling that comes with it — is Hong Kong's most popular spectator sport. Follow the crowds to the Happy Valley race track every Wednesday to place a few bets and soak up the excitement. Or take a trip to the bigger track at Sha Tin.
If you're here in March, head to the HK Stadium in Causeway Bay for the Hong Kong 7s, a premier event on the world rugby calendar. (Though the real scrum happens in the stands and at the bars post-match.)
In June, the Dragon Boat Carnival attract big crowds who come to watch elite crews from around the world to test their mettle on Victoria Harbor.
Hong Kong also hosts a marathon every year, usually in February when it's cooler.
If you prefer seats in an air-conditioned pub to a crowded arena, plenty of Soho bars air rugby and football, though rarely the American kind. The Globe has multiple screens (and great craft beer).