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Dragons, lanterns and hundreds of first time racegoers gave Royal Randwick a distinctly new feel on Saturday.

The Chinese Festival of Racing marked a new step in the Australian Turf Club’s long term business strategy and, the ATC hopes, a new hobby for the Chinese who attended.

Chinese dragons took over the racetrack after race six, an important part of the day for the Chinese community since the annual Chinese New Year Twilight Parade was cancelled indefinitely for light rail construction through Sydney’s George Street.

The consensus among first-timers was positive.

“It’s a good family day and I’ll tell my friends about it,” Sydney resident Mary Sheng said.

University student Ji Cheng said he was keen to experience racing because it was a big part of Australian culture, but was yet to understand it.

Entertainer Joe June, dressed as the mythical Chinese God of Fortune, said horse racing was popular in his community.

“First of all, this is kind of gambling,” he said.

“The Chinese market has very big potential and I think the leaders of this industry should put more weight on this market.”

ATC chief executive Darren Pearce said his organisation was in uncharted territory but capturing the Chinese market made perfect sense.

“When you look at how the Chinese community like to spend their leisure time, they like social group dining, they like luxury and elevated experiences and they love fashion. Racing offers all of those things,” he said.

“What racecourses traditionally haven’t been good at is talking to new audiences.”

Chinese language form guides and translators were available on the day, something Pearce hopes will become a feature of all race meetings.

Pearce said the ATC wants to educate the Chinese about racing first, so they become investors and horse owners later.

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