UK & World News
Chinese Millionaire Bets On Horse Racing
Ren Ningning is a man from Beijing with a passion, a fortune and a dream.
The multimillionaire, who made his fortune in the concrete industry, is leading a drive to transform China into a global horse-racing centre.
"I want to breed the best horses, best jockeys, and have the best races in China," he says.
We meet at his stables in the Chinese city of Wuhan. There are racehorses all around from some of the best stock in the world.
He shows me stallions from Australia, Japan and Ireland. Last year, he bought 94 horses at auction in Australia, chartered a plane and flew them all to China.
In 2013, a total of 1,730 horses were imported to China, a 64% increase from 2010.
Mr Ren introduces us to Sai Ba, his favourite five-year-old stallion, bought in Australia for £30,000. "Maybe tomorrow, number one!" he says.
We meet Ma Liankai, who Mr Ren describes as "the best jockey in China!"
Tiny and lean, he has just spent three months training in Newmarket, England.
"When I first went to England, I found that they are more passionate about horses than we are. They have deeper feelings for horses than they do for people!" Mr Ma says.
"I met a top-class teacher, who trained me how to build up a relationship with the horse, how to train a horse from a young age until it becomes an excellent racehorse."
In terms of scale and facilities, Wuhan rivals the world's top racecourses. It was built for a capacity crowd of 30,000. There are perhaps 3,000 here today but they are enthusiastic and noisy.
There is just one thing missing because the queues of excited punters are not gambling; there are no bookies here. Gambling is illegal in China.
Racegoers are only allowed to participate in a lottery. They choose a number corresponding to a horse. If it wins, they get a prize - a bottle of Chinese wine. No money changes hands but it doesn't seem to matter.
China's ruling Communist Party frowns on horse racing and has outlawed gambling. It considers the sport to be a symbol of Western decadence - even though it thrives in Hong Kong and Macau, both semi-autonomous Chinese territories.
Underneath the grandstand we see a remarkable sight and a clear statement of intent. There is a huge, empty gambling hall, complete with unused counters.
The people who run this racecourse quietly believe that China will change the laws and allow gambling. If they happens, Wuhan is ready.
The final race is key for Mr Ren. He hasn't won yet today and this is his big chance. He has four horses running.
They pass the finishing post, first, second and third: the perfect result for Mr Ren and for his three winning jockeys who stand, proud, on the podium.
The crowds flock to the faux-bookies to collect their bottles of wine and we have a final word with Mr Ren.
"Ten years. Ten years!" he tells me. In ten years, he says he, his jockeys and his horses will be winning at Royal Ascot.