Flaw in PPG permits leads to bottleneck in buying horses

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2012, 12:00am


The annual issue of permits had us thinking about the ownership system and what is wrong with it. There is a flaw that has been gathering dust for, let's say, forever.

If its properly adjusted, a change will give owners one more reason to be pleased with the all-powerful oversight of the Jockey Club. And the club itself will be doing something positive in the role in which it does see itself as the school prefect - improving the prospects of owners importing horses.

The issue of which we speak about is that of the distribution of the ownership permits and the process of buying horses.

Now, this is a process we imagine to have been handed down on the equivalent of stone tablets and which has, as a result, deviated little since then over the years.

Hopeful members apply for the ballot in April, then towards the end of the season, i.e. the beginning of June, the ballots are drawn for both private purchase (PP) and private purchase griffin (PPG) horses.

The PPs are bought in different ways and from different places at different times - they are a horse of a different colour. What we are looking at is the PPG permits and why they are all drawn at the same time, and why they have to be virtually all purchased at the same time.

When a prospective owner draws a PP permit, he brings his horse in next season as and when he or she can. That owner can go out and start looking right away.

When an owner successfully draws a PPG ticket, well, that is pretty much all the action for a year, and the permit gets thrown into a drawer since the PPG can't be imported until the following July.

No, not next month. In the case of 220 owners who got PPG permits on June 5, those permits do not become active until July 1, 2013.

Perhaps the underlying concept is that owners will search far and wide to buy young horses, yearlings or two-year-olds now, that will be allowed time to grow and be properly educated elsewhere during the time that passes before they are eligible to be imported in July next year.

Which is a nice fantasy - on a par with that dream where you are handed the keys to the Playboy Mansion by Hugh Hefner when he falls off his perch - because what really happens is that many owners realise the situation and just file that permit, until about this time next year. Then they start bombarding agents or trial watchers in Australia and New Zealand with calls to buy them a horse.

And suddenly every trial winner from 27 heats at Cambridge in New Zealand one cold morning in June is sold over the phone to Hong Kong before the saddle is off.

Usually this is when the misty rain obscures the back straight and the mud is up to the horses' hocks and the jockeys' mothers wouldn't know them.

Similar scenes will play out at Cranbourne in Australia, among other tracks.

Now, not to cast aspersions on the sellers, since they operate within a system that creates this situation, but many of those heavy-track trial winners from Australasia get here and don't perform on firm ground.

Let's face it, buying wet-track horses is on page one of what not to do when buying a horse for Hong Kong, but when you're buying in May or June in Australasia, they are usually the only conditions on offer. And, so the odd one or two horses could have problems, which trials on a wet track might help to mask.

And does the club believe there is any benefit to its owners in the sellers' market knowing this situation? A situation where, at the same time every year, a rush of Hong Kong buyers will come knocking to close a quick deal to ensure certain horses are on the July shipment, which will mean they are here in time to race early next season.

Why, it is possible some people could take commercial advantage of a situation like that. Not that we've heard of any.

And, bear in mind, we are not dumping mud on the buying of stock out of Australasia. Anyone would acknowledge that, when it comes to PPGs, the vast majority come from Australia and New Zealand, they are bought out of trials and there are plenty of good, sound horses among them. We are just wondering whether it is a good thing that everyone is rushing into the same market at the same time for the same type of horse?

And then there is a problem with that July shipment - even getting on it is tougher than a tungsten Rubik's Cube. The June flight comes up half empty, the July flight is perennially overbooked. Many owners who had no incentive to do anything, but to wait and buy their horses in May or June to be on the July flight, finds that the thoroughbred can't get on the plane as planned.

So is it time to revisit the situation and consider either staggering the eligibility for imports throughout the season, or staggering the handing out of permits? It doesn't have to be done in one big clump.

We know that permit holders will still charge the market when their turn comes, but what might transpire is that demand no long overwhelms supply. The horses become cheaper with fewer Hong Kong owners in the market at any one time, and they might be buying stock out of trials run when better ground gives a truer impression of what people are actually getting for a firm-ground jurisdiction.

They may even get them on a flight when they want to, instead of being frustrated with a system that congratulates them in June for winning the right to race a horse in their colours, then keeps that pride bottled up for a year.