Owners feeling pinch of tough times

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 September, 1998, 12:00am

Three horses have been put up for sale in the first two weeks of the season.

On face value, that might not seem like an interesting statistic. But when one considers a grand total of six have been sold in the past two seasons, it certainly presents an indication of tough economic times.

In the near 20 months since September 1996, until the end of last season in June, six horses had been put up for sale by members and bought. A seventh, the Geoff Lane-trained Zeus, was unsuccessfully put up for tender twice - around the time that the recession was starting to bite.

The exact figures are easy enough to trot out. In the 1996-97 season, two horses were put up for tender and sold. Last season, four changed hands.

And the present trio of horses shortly to go up for bids - unraced Hero's Way plus Straight Way and Brilliant Way - are not going to be the last on offer.

Two trainers are currently aware that at least two horses in their care are certain to follow the present trio to, as it were, the auction block.

A Jockey Club official, who preferred anonymity, said: 'When money is tight, the squeeze hits the fun money first. When it comes to racing horses in Hong Kong, it can be an expensive business. And that does not include buying them, [but] merely keeping them.

'It is fine if an owner has a horse that pays its way, for the prize money in Hong Kong is good. But an owner can expect to pay over $300,000 a year in livery charges. In times of recession, that can amount to a bit of money.' Such has been the social cachet and prominence attached to owning a horse in Hong Kong that it has, in previous times, been virtually unheard of for owners to part with horses except for obvious reasons such as leaving the territory.

Similarly, a prized Hong Kong possession in past years was a successful ballot for a new horse. Only a relatively small percentage of Jockey Club members race horses and it is not easy to be successful in the annual ballot.

But there have already been several changes to the list of members who drew a ballot last May through withdrawals or deferments.

There is no suggestion that what is happening constitutes a crisis, as there will always be members seeking horses, but it is an indication - a barometer - of the present troubled times.

Long-serving trainer Bruce Hutchison has been in Hong Kong so long that colleague Brian Kan Ping-chee feels he is a local.

Kan slapped a ban on buying Australian horses and letting his retained jockey ride for Australian trainers last season following the refusal of the Australian Consulate to grant him a visa to visit there.

Late yesterday, Danetop was withdrawn from tomorrow night's featured Hong Kong University Alumni Association Challenge Cup and the Hutchison-trained standby declared starter, Trobis, takes his place in the field.

Hutchison has recommended Kan's retained jockey, Welshman David Harrison, take the ride and the colourful local trainer has released him. Said Hutchison: 'Brian was very good about it but we are old mates.'