Bumper crowd shows Happy Valley deserves more than squibs and goats

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2007, 12:00am

So the cat has been let out of the bag. Happy Valley is not a disaster zone, but a fully viable, slightly under-appreciated racecourse.

After years of intentional downgrading to being regarded as a second-tier track - at times perhaps not even solid footing for that consideration vis a vis the all-weather - the Valley received its opportunity last Sunday and the result should be taken to heart.

Sunday was the first weekend card at Happy Valley in 2? years and the first Sunday in 15 years, so turnover comparisons are not a simple matter. But, in a season when turnover is climbing at a slightly accelerating rate as the term progresses, the almost HK$900 million in turnover places the meeting in the top 20 for the season and would have made the top 12 last season.

The oft-bandied theory that an all-dirt weekend meeting turns over the same money as a Happy Valley weekend was also blown away. Last season, there were two weekend all-weather meetings, holding almost HK$772 million in the better of them, and even the improved results this season don't stand comparison.

The October 21 card with 10 on the dirt held HK$818.86 million, with the assistance of a jackpot in the Six Win Bonus and a HK$13 million Triple Trio jackpot.

For any other examination, we need to resort to mixed meetings like December 2 (eight of 10 races on dirt) with HK$840.49 million or April 22 (seven of 11 on dirt) holding HK$872.96 million.

Any way you slice it, Sunday's Valley meeting worked better than expected at the bottom line and defied its systematic downgrading.

Only three seasons ago Happy Valley lost its last remaining Group race, the Happy Valley Trophy, and six years ago the mighty Fairy King Prawn towed Robbie Fradd and 135 pounds around the circuit to win it.

Nowadays, the course rarely sees even Class One racing, but that has been an intentional positioning by the club of Happy Valley as a home to goats and squibs instead of an appreciation of the track for what it is.

It may not be as pretty as Sha Tin but it makes its own idiosyncratic demands on the runners and should not be degraded because of that - two of the more maligned tracks in world racing are Epsom Downs and Moonee Valley, but the Derby and Cox Plate are no less a race because of the venue. Arguably, they are both better races because of the nuances of each course.

So now we've seen that Happy Valley is a better bet than the dirt and able to stand up for itself in the way that counts the most - customer appeal - perhaps the club should give thought to more weekend meetings there and perhaps even a quality race or two.

Here's a starting point - there are plenty of owners of expensive four-year-old private purchases who DIDN'T win the Derby and who would love a crack at some real money.

They'd probably even go to Happy Valley for it.