Mixed signals from stewards
THE decision to reduce but not lift the ban on jockey Declan Murphy for careless riding in the King Prawn incident is a regrettable one.
Most neutral observers believe Murphy cannot be blamed for Gerald Mosse's fall from King Prawn at Happy Valley.
And, prior to last night's appeal hearing by a panel of Jockey Club Stewards, there had been widespread criticism of the original four-day ban made in the absence of chief stipendiary steward Bernard Hargreaves.
The race meeting stewards formed the opinion - and how remains a mystery - that Super Structure on the outside of Morning Patrol did not start the chain reaction that resulted in Mosse and King Prawn hitting the Valley turf.
The film evidence is clear yet Murphy was been deemed solely responsible.
What then of last Saturday's racing? Mick Kinane came across from the outside on Great Admiral, did not touch or brush in any way Village Bard and Felix Coetzee, and was given three days for careless riding following subsequent interference to Muhim.
In last month's Happy Valley race, Super Structure came across and on to Murphy and Morning Patrol, and Murphy did try to take avoiding action.
Great Admiral did not come across Village Bard, whose rider - unlike the hapless Murphy - did not have to stop riding.
This is total inconsistency - the scourge of a racing judiciary.
Indeed, there is a growing voice of opinion which asks why the Macau Jockey Club can sign such respected stipendiary stewards as Brian Killian from the Australian Jockey Club at a time when there is mounting concern about the overall quality of the Hongkong stipes.
The decision to lower the maximum topweight of 154 lb to 147 lb last week was rightly greeted with enthusiasm by all connected with Hongkong racing.
The old weight scale was a throwback to former days and there can be few sadder sights than a top quality racehorse having its spirit broken by the shouldering of massive weights.
The decision, while protecting our best horses, also served to bring Hongkong more into line with international practice.
But we still face significant problems in the vital area of handicapping.
One cause for concern is the classification of young private purchase horses into Class Two even though their overseas runs may have been very limited.
An obvious example of this came last Saturday when the Geoff Lane-trained Perfect Sunshine ran for the third time locally. He beat one horse home in the seventh event and in previous runs had finished last and then beaten three home.
In New Zealand the horse had run once at a country meeting for a win. And he also arrived in Hongkong with a good report from the New Zealand handicapper, putting his local opposite number, Martyn Stewart, in a tricky position.
Making it mandatory for all private purchase gallopers to have three runs before export would provide a fuller picture.