Unstable turf tracks a sign of the times
Only a month and nine meetings into the new season, and already there are warning signs about the reliability of the turf tracks at both Happy Valley and Sha Tin.
This article is sure to be greeted as alarmist in some quarters, but at the very least the evidence of the clock suggests punters are being asked to form opinions on races run on unstable surfaces which change in nature through a meeting - regardless of climatic conditions.
Naturally, when it rains any grass track will slow, but at both the Valley and Sha Tin the sandmesh courses are degrading without the help of adverse weather conditions.
Sunday's night meeting at Sha Tin opened and closed with 1,600-metre races. In the first, Smart Dragon landed the Class Six heat in one minute and 37.6 seconds, while the Class Two galloper Best One closed proceedings only 0.3 seconds faster. This may not be totally damning evidence by itself, but with Smart Dragon officially rated only 11 prior to his weekend's victory, and Best One running off 81, it is an example that few should have difficulty understanding.
Truth is, Smart Dragon has always worked as though he possesses more ability than shown in his races, and Sunday's win simply confirmed his trainer's belief that he was ready to show it.
A Topspeed rating of 28 reflects that improvement, but it is also calculated employing a going allowance on the fast side of good, and approaching what would be expected from good to firm ground.
Best One's speed figure of 53 has been calculated employing a slow going allowance, and by my reckoning the surface degraded by around 0.2 seconds, or more than a length, per 200 metres throughout the evening.
But of course we are not simply looking at those two races in isolation. The times quite clearly slowed through the evening over all distances.
In the To Fung Shan Handicap, Partner (38) recorded a winning time of one minute and 24.7 seconds for the 1,400-metre trip. Two races later Lord Ron (51) could manage only the same time in the Class Three Lion Rock Handicap.
It was the same story on Wednesday night at the Valley, with Good Tension recording the same one minute and 12.1 seconds in the opening, 1,200-metre Class Six contest as Solid Gold had achieved in division two of the Queen Elizabeth Stadium Handicap.
Again, the effect of the slowing ground was undoubtedly exaggerated by Good Tension. He stepped up on his previous efforts to clock a relatively smart time performance equating to a Topspeed of 36 (Solid Gold has been credited with a 66 time rating), but there can be no doubt the surface went off as the meeting progressed.
This time the turf appeared to have slowed by 0.25 seconds per 200 metres from race one to race seven.
This phenomenon is more pronounced at night meetings, when there is more moisture in the atmosphere than during the day. But the implication is that the turf tracks are already unable to sustain adequately heavy action, and a repeat of the threadbare conditions experienced last season may just be round the corner.
Maybe the groundsmen have it all in hand, only time will tell. Yet the fact that race times can go off so dramatically through an evening should be of concern for all, not just the punters struggling to turn a dollar on an ever-shifting playing field.