Club delight as HK Sprint upgraded to Group Two status
Nick Pulford, Racing Editor
The Jockey Club's drive for quality has received another boost with the promotion of the Hong Kong Sprint to international Group Two status. The move is a step closer to the Club's aim of making December's International meeting the turf world championship of racing following a massive prize-money boost.
The upgrading of the Sprint came as the Club unveiled a raft of changes designed to boost the stature and profile of Hong Kong racing both at home and abroad. The innovations announced yesterday include modifications to ratings bands and winning distances - including a new margin of a nose - as well as bigger and better giant TV screens at Sha Tin and Happy Valley.
The Sprint was promoted to Group Two status by the International Cataloguing Standards Committee at a meeting in London this week. The committee sets a Group Two benchmark of a 110 average rating for the first four finishers in a race, a target attained both in last year's Sprint, when the figure was 113.75, and in 1999 (112.5).
'The Hong Kong Sprint is arguably the most important sprint race in the region, attracting top sprinters from both the northern and southern hemispheres,' said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the Club's director of racing. 'We thank the International Cataloguing Standards Committee for recognising the quality of the race and hope this year's race will see even more top runners competing down the Sha Tin straight.'
The race is nearing the 115 average required to gain Group One status and the Club hopes this year's renewal will justify another upgrading in 2002, joining the Hong Kong Cup, Vase and Mile at the top level. Prize-money for the four events has been boosted by 20 per cent to $48 million for this year's International meeting on December 16, with the Sprint the richest 1,000-metre race in the world at $8 million.
The Club aims to have its new TV screens installed on the racecourse by early December. The screens, 40 metres wide and eight metres high, will be the largest of their type in world racing and will provide better picture resolution and up to four images at a time.
International standards are also at the heart of the Club's changes to its finishing margins. The shortest winning distance now will be a nose rather than a short-head, while the distances for a head and a neck will be shortened. A Club statement explained the changes were intended to provide a better reflection of the actual distance to minimise any unnecessary confusion and also to bring some of the margins more in line with international practices.
The Club has also taken steps to remove some of the anomalies of the handicapping system, with effect from July 1. The much-criticised maximum rating increase for placed horses will remain at five pounds, but the handicappers will now be able to increase the ratings of private purchases or private-purchase griffins by up to 10 pounds when they are placed during their first season in Hong Kong.
It was also confirmed that Class Six has been abolished, with the Club making a corresponding adjustment to the ratings bands for the five remaining principal handicap classes. Class One races will now have an upper rating limit of 115, with 90 for Class Two, 75 for Class Three, 60 for Class Four and 40 for Class Five.
On the prize-money front, there was an additional boost on top of the $38 million overall increase announced last month for the 2001-02 season. The bonus attached to the Piaget International Sale will be raised to $1 million for the 2000 sale graduate with the highest earnings at the time of this year's auction on December 14. The bonus was first offered at the 1998 sale at $250,000 and was raised to $500,000 for the 1999 sale. The Peter Ho-trained Lucky Six scooped the bonus last year.