We're doing just fine

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2007, 12:00am

From afar, the Breeders' Cup meeting in the US last weekend gave the overwhelming feeling we are so fortunate with the structure of racing in general and our championship day in December in particular.

Bad weather battered the bottom lines at Monmouth Park, with their turnover of US$111.9 million being down 20 per cent on betting at Churchill Downs 12 months earlier.

Now US$112 million does sound like a lot of money, but let's get the perspective right. It was wagered by a population of 300 million, and was the biggest event of the racing year.

But it was 8.5 per cent less than a domestic population of seven million Hong Kongers bet on Happy Valley a few hours later - HK$948 million, or US$122.3 million - where the highest-grade event was a Class Two handicap and not a feature race or Group One horse in sight.

Then there is the dirt versus turf debate. Watching those poor animals slog through the Monmouth Park slop that was a dirt track prior to the rain, and witnessing the awful breakdown of Ballydoyle glamour horse George Washington in the Breeders' Cup Classic, you'd wonder why there is any debate at all.

Jim Bolger, the Irishman who trained 2004 Hong Kong Cup heroine Alexander Goldrun, got straight to the nub of the issue in an interview with Racing Post (UK).

Bolger, who trains this year's top two-year-old in Europe, New Approach, said: 'George Washington's legacy, apart from being a very exciting champion, will be that from now on Breeders' Cups will only be run on Polytrack [rather than dirt]. The sooner they're all Polytrack and they cut out the drugs, it will be a better competition.

'If they [the Breeders' Cup] had Polytrack and turf tracks without the drugs, it would sort the men from the boys.'

Ah, the dreaded 'D' word. Most American racing authorities still allow horses to compete on declared dosages of drugs such as lasix (anti-bleeding) and butazolidin (pain-killing anti-inflammatory). So, collectively, you have a racing culture that could not be more foreign to what we enjoy here, where all horses must be presented drug-free.

The Breeders' Cup is trying hard to become the 'world championships', but there are a number of issues it will continue to battle to overcome.

Dirt tracks and the legality of drugs in US racing are just two of them.

The difficulty of having no permanent home and rotating around the states from year to year is another. Monmouth Park fans will be waiting quite a while for their next Breeders' Cup!

And surely, there must be someone, somewhere questioning the concept of having so-called world championship turf races on these seven-furlong dog tracks that are even tighter than Happy Valley? Yes, there are tracks that small.

And are they really 'world championships' when the entry system presents such a formidable barrier for horses produced outside the US breeding industry? Their turf races have been going off without representation from Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, and the dirt races are basically local derbies.

There are, however, some interesting developments taking place. One is that the Breeders' Cup board is expansion-minded, and one of its new-race options is a turf sprint. Now that would have some real synergy with Hong Kong racing.

Another is that overseas clubs will be invited to bid for the right to stage future Breeders' Cup meetings, and on the world stage few could match Hong Kong's capacity to stage such an event.

The Breeders' Cup meeting did look like having an upside for the Cathay Pacific International Races when After Market was withdrawn from the Breeders' Cup Mile due to the soft track.

There's no such thing as wet ground at Sha Tin in December, so After Market looked a genuine candidate for the Hong Kong Mile. Alas, his retirement to stud was announced on Monday and our encouragement from the weekend must come from a different direction - and Miss Andretti's superb comeback win in a Group Two sprint at Moonee Valley in Melbourne.

The Global Sprint Challenge champion-in-waiting did all she had to do in her first start since returning from conquering Royal Ascot in June, and an appointment against Absolute Champion, Sacred Kingdom and Medic Power at Sha Tin now awaits.



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