Smiles all round after first billion-dollar haul of season

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 12:00am

The champagne glasses were clinking in the officials' bar at Sha Tin last night as the first $1 billion turnover of the new season was celebrated. The exact figure was $1,018,216,609 and there were 30,192 racegoers on course to help boost the tally with another 7,822 doing their bit from Happy Valley.

There is normally little unusual about billion-dollar turnovers in Hong Kong but to come so early in the season is a slight surprise. 'I think that is why we should have a small celebration. There is a very good feeling about this just now,' said director of racing Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges. Last season it was not until the end of September that the magic billion-dollar mark was reached.

There is little doubt some keen racing has contributed to the interest and it is good to know that, with the quality or horses here already and those coming in, it should only get better.

'We are very confident about this. Good, clean racing with exciting finishes, good jockeys and trainers will also translate ultimately into good turnover,' said Engelbrecht-Bresges.

What has become noticeable in these early season meetings is that despite the obvious difference in fitness of some horses, there has been a much greater number of tight finishes.

It can scarcely be coincidental that this has happened under the new regime of former Irish Turf Club senior handicapper Ciaran Kennelly. There is still tinkering with the rating bands system so that, where possible, there will be full fields of 14, but there can be few who doubt the decision to switch to ratings racing has been a success.

Mick Kinane is leading the Emirates World Jockeys' Series by 12 points after his success in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown last Saturday. He won on the brilliant Giant's Causeway and now has Montjeu to look forward to in the Arc.

It is unlikely either of these two brilliant horses will appear in the Hong Kong Cup on December 17, but Jockey Club international supremo Simon Cooper sincerely wishes they could.

'This is going to be a very interesting year for us because we have introduced the new $60,000 declaration fee. That is also for local horses and one is left to wonder how they will ultimately react to that. If you have a horse that you know will probably run in the last three, would you pay $60,000?'

Strangely, the answer in Hong Kong is probably 'yes'. It can be a question of 'face' here and $60,000 doesn't mean a lot to a lot of people who are involved in horse racing. It might be more interesting to see how some owners overseas react. Said Cooper: 'I don't know. In relation to New Zealand, we only really need or want to have Sunline here again because she is special. We have a 90 per cent chance of her running here and taking in just the Cox Plate and then Sha Tin, which would be super,' he said.

The most interesting aspect of the Hong Kong Cup could be Kinane's mount, assuming he is still in the running for the title. Under new Jockey Club rules last season, he can also ride a local horse even if he is not retained or licensed here at that time.

Champion jockey Robbie Fradd's hopes of a double were soundly dashed when 3-1 favourite Fortune Maker reared as the gates opened in the eighth race. This was a 1,000-metre sprint and the field had gone by the time Fradd got the recalcitrant Derek Cruz-trained Fortune Maker going again.

Chief stipe John Schreck took the time to show the film of the race to the media and explained, quite obviously, that there was no question of it being a false start or the horse not having received a fair start. 'It was the horse's own fault,' said Schreck.

For Fradd it was an unfortunate incident. 'The horse clearly had a very good chance and we were all a bit hopeful. Then he just went straight up in the air - there was nothing I could do about it,' he said.