William Nader’s passion for the horse racing industry has taken him from the old Rockingham Park in his New Hampshire hometown to the New York Racing Association and then to Hong Kong, where he has had a profound impact as director of racing business and operations at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Nader, who turns 62 on Monday, reflected on his career during an interview. The following conversation has been edited and condensed.
How did you become interested in horse racing?
Secretariat. My father [Frank] was a racing fan. We lived in Salem, N.H. Rockingham Park was less than two miles from my home. After I watched Secretariat win the ’73 Belmont by 31 lengths, I said to him: “O.K., I’m interested. Let’s go.”
What happened next?
I used to ride my bicycle along the train tracks to go to Rockingham at 5:30, 6 a.m. While I was going to the university [of New Hampshire], I worked in the press box and actually did the morning line. When I graduated, I went to work there full time. Rockingham, being a midsize track, gave me the foundation that I needed, a real understanding of every facet of horse racing, because I did everything.
How long were you at Rockingham?
I was there from 1979 until I went to work for the New York Racing Association in 1994. I went to N.Y.R.A. as director of marketing, and then it quickly changed to director of simulcasting. In 2000, Barry Schwartz became chairman and that was sort of a turning point, I think, in my career. As soon as he became chairman, he called me in and said, “I’m making you senior vice president and chief operating officer.” The fact that he had confidence to put me in that spot at that time, I would never be able to thank him enough.
What led to your being hired by the Hong Kong Jockey Club?
I thought I would never leave N.Y.R.A. And then Hong Kong called [in 2007]. I flew my two boys with me for the interview. I was divorced, and I thought, “I’m only going if you guys go with me.”
What initial challenges did you face in Hong Kong?
The one thing that I think helped in the transition in taking that big step internationally is the vertical integration of the jockey club model. In Hong Kong, you are the operator. You also are the regulator. You have complete control of the process from end to end. It results in the jockey club offering the best experience in all of racing to the customer and also to the owner, the two most important stakeholders.
Was it a difficult adjustment personally?
I love the job, and the jockey club provides the housing, so it was no problem for me. It’s safe to say the transition was much easier than you would expect. Driving on the other side of the road, that was a little tricky.
You left Hong Kong in January 2016 for a relatively brief time. What happened?
I thought it was the right time to return home and reunite with family. I spent two relaxing years in the States and did some consulting. Winfried [Engelbrecht-Bresges] called me to come back to Hong Kong. I could never really say no to the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
How popular is racing in Hong Kong?
In 88 days of racing in Hong Kong, the total wagering will exceed all of North America combined. And it’s not just the wagering. It’s the quality of the racing. It’s quality control at every checkpoint.
Where are you trying to take Hong Kong racing?
We’re taking it global. One of the things Winfried asked me to do at one point was to head up international simulcasting commingling. We worked with three divisions of the Hong Kong government — finance, home affairs and inland revenue — to get the approval to offer our racing worldwide. Now, we have people from all over the world betting on our races.
What steps do you take in the interest of equine safety and integrity?
No medication is permitted on race day. We do pre-race veterinary checks and post-race. We also do out-of-competition testing [for illegal medications]. We invest heavily to make sure they have all the tools that are needed.
How important is racing to Hong Kong’s economy?
The Hong Kong Jockey Club is the biggest single taxpayer in Hong Kong. Seventy-five percent of every dollar wagered goes straight to the government in what we call betting duty. The amount of money we pay in betting duty helps keep the tax rate low.