All-weather bias keeps punters on their toes
Last Wednesday witnessed the third of six scheduled all-weather meetings at Sha Tin and the worst example of a track bias on the dirt to date. The inability of the track manager to produce a level playing field has never been so clearly illustrated. The previous two meetings had indicated a bias towards those that raced on the pace in sprints, but last week's action left no doubt and the times as a whole suggest a very uneven surface.
To borrow a cliche from another sport, it was a game of two halves. All three winners of the 1,150-metre sprints made all, but the final four heats over a minimum of 1,650 metre produced much slower going and allowed animals to come from off the pace.
The need to protect the punter has been the focus of both the press and Jockey Club in recent days, but the spotlight shouldn't just fall on stricter procedures for checking horses that get loose before a race. Punter confidence is just as easily eroded if results are determined primarily by track bias rather than the ability of the animals in the race, especially if that bias changes mid-meeting.
Sure, spotting how a track is riding can and does pay handsome dividends for those in a position to accurately and quickly monitor the state of play. But that is a small minority and the masses who account for the billions of dollars that flood through the tote are the ones being undermined. Analysing the results accurately also becomes virtually impossible. We know that of the three 1,150-metre races, the opening event won by Streak Of Dawn was the best time performance relative to class, but grading the run with an eye to the future is another thing altogether.
Streak Of Dawn earned a Topspeed rating of 55, but did an animal down the field coming from off the pace actually return a performance of greater merit, despite being credited with an inferior speed figure? Any attempt to reflect the amount the track bias affected each runner can only be subjective. We know a bias exists and it may have had a profound effect on the results, but it is impossible to quantify that effect.
The failure of the Jockey Club to provide a true and fair racing surface takes away one of the punters' few weapons, the ability to objectively analyse form with any degree of accuracy. Of the longer races last Wednesday, Liffey River may not have beaten the strongest of fields in the 2,400-metre Victoria Park Handicap, but a Topspeed rating of 53 suggests this improving young stayer is up to winning again.
The John Peel Plate for griffins produced the pick of the action from Saturday's turf card at Sha Tin. Perfect Star made the most of the seven-pound weight concession from runner-up Engineman, but with time figures of 61 and 64 respectively, both confirmed themselves as animals to follow. Multi-Star clocked 62 when easily landing the Class Four Noonday Gun Handicap over a mile and is developing into a smart stayer.