Jockey Club deserves to take a bow

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 March, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 March, 1999, 12:00am

Prominent English trainer Geoff Wragg predicted two seasons ago that International Race week could supercede America's Breeders' Cup as the world festival of racing after his First Island had dominated his International Cup rivals.

Wragg's prescience could not have been more heavily underscored than by the Hong Kong Jockey Club's magnificent reshaping and upgrading of the December spectacular which was announced on Saturday.

The earlier announcement that the Emirates World Racing Championship will embrace the International Cup - to be renamed the Hong Kong Cup - only adds weight to Wragg's view.

From next season, International Race week will comprise four superb races which have now been distilled to defined racing distances for which the Thoroughbred has been bred over centuries.

The Hong Kong Cup, worth a mighty $10 million will be run over 2,000 metres. The Hong Kong Vase stays at 2,400 metres but the Hong Kong Bowl will now be run over a much more suitable mile, plus there will be a Hong Kong Sprint down the 1,000-metre chute.

It promises to be a fantastic spectacle for race fans with the ultimate aim, surely, of each race attaining international Group One status, with the Hong Kong Sprint targeted to be the richest 1,000-metre turf event in the world.

The Jockey Club, led by director of racing Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges and the Board of Stewards, have shot for the stars and cannot be more highly commended for their vision.

The Breeders' Cup series is becoming increasingly expensive for European raiders - Wragg argued prohibitively so.

What's more it has proved a graveyard for the European runners on so many occasions due to the climatic conditions at some of the venues.

To a lesser extent, America's understandably more permissive attitude to the use of drugs such as bute and Lasix has also caused problems. (Over there they need the runners and bute and Lasix keep the racing circus going).

There is none of that in Hong Kong or in Europe.

Runners and connections have their travelling expenses paid by the Jockey Club and the climate here in December is suitable to all comers.

The Southern Hemisphere runners don't go to America but they do come here and with the increased prize money, the change in distances, the promise of top-notchers coming from Europe and, sooner rather than later, bypassing the States, it is going to become imperative for the Australian and New Zealand trainers to send their very, very best performers if they are going to remain competitive. The racing public then has the promise of some of the giants of the turf competing at Sha Tin.

With prize money at such high levels, there is also an enormous incentive for Hong Kong's world-class trainers and highly committed owners to go out and buy even better racing stock.

And if this also acts as a stimulus to purchase a superior level of griffin, then the improvements will also come at grassroots level.

Punters who backed Floral Joy in Saturday's eighth event didn't just do their money in cold blood.

Worse. They did it in a gush of warm, sticky claret, yet are the ones expected to remain sanguine about yet another horse who should never have been allowed to start.

Reading the stipes report, there must have been an argument for declaring Floral Joy a non-runner following the incident which saw him rear in the stalls and crash his head against the overhead crossbar while the field was assembled in the barriers.

This led to him wounding his head but it didn't lead to any vet's examination.

Nor was it noticed by the starter.

Not surprisingly, Floral Joy raced awkwardly from the marker pole and was pulled up from the 600-metre marker after jockey Alex K. S. Yu noticed the blood flowing from the wound.

If good can come out of bad, and it is scant compensation for those who lost on Floral Joy, the time has come where procedures at the start must be overhauled.

It is a matter of some urgency and new procedures must be adopted as the current system is patently failing to protect punters.

Notwithstanding the Floral Joy debacle, there are too many horses who are allowed to take their place who are not fit to do so. In fact it is becoming something of a disgrace.

Bayview King, Fortune Dancer and Good News are other very recent examples of which there are far, far too many. Punters are not getting a fair deal.

Excel Kid was a famous one from a couple of seasons ago when no official noticed him doing a double back somersault, with pike, in front of the grandstands - degree of difficulty 5.9.

And there's a double whammy involved because punters not only do their money cold first time round, they may do it again next time when these horses run into the placings, as Bayview King, Fortune Dancer and Good News did, despite seemingly poor previous efforts.

The recent suspensions of English jockeys Alan Munro and Wendyll Woods should, hopefully, go a long way to stopping riders from easing down prematurely on their mounts.

Easing down was taking on epidemic proportions and had to be arrested.

Munro received three meetings as he cost his mount, Expedient, fourth place, while Woods got five as he cost Auction Venture third.

There is no disputing they were guilty as charged.

And in a racing jurisdiction which is handicap driven, all jockeys should be made to ride out their mounts to the line when at all possible.

It promises to be a fantastic spectacle . . . with the ultimate aim, surely, of each race attaining international Group One status