Highest turnover in four years fills Jockey Club with festive cheer

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2007, 12:00am

Christmas came early for the Jockey Club last night with the highest betting turnover on a Happy Valley meeting for over four years, fuelled in part by a stunning $5 million all-up bet on Sanziro that narrowly failed to arrive in the night's feature.

The news won't be greeted with any great enthusiasm by Hong Kong's jockey ranks, or the stewards for that matter, with riders queued up late as inquiries proceeded into interference throughout the night's racing on the C+3 course.

Riders believe the wide rail at the Valley makes an already tricky track almost impossible, with little margin for error before interference occurs, and the ranks of riders waiting outside the stipes' room was strong evidence for their argument but the turnover figures will ensure there are more, not fewer, C+3 meetings.

'That's our highest figure at the Valley since October, 2003,' said a beaming chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges of the $788.9 million tally at night's end.

Executve director of racing, Bill Nader said the meeting turnover had just exploded after a slow start and peaked with a $135 million figure for the Happy Valley Trophy.

'With the $5 million all-up bet going on to Sanziro, he opened up odds-on and I guess that brought in the big professional betters,' he said. 'The race total was the highest second-last race here for two years.'

All trainer Caspar Fownes could say of the all-up on Sanziro was 'I hope he's right' but the bet failed by only half a length as Sanziro was run down near the line by Tony Cruz-trained King Encosta, giving Eric Saint-Martin a winning double.

'I've had him aimed at this for a while and he peaked tonight,' said Cruz. 'At the start of the season, King Encosta had a setback with a foot problem.

'We fixed that and then let his feet grow out again so he wasn't really right when he did start the season. But this was his third run back and he was right at his top.'

Douglas Whyte also landed a double while training honours went to Paul O'Sullivan with a Valley pair.

'A rare Valley double for me, but I'll take them all,' said O'Sullivan after Lightning Speed (Whyte) won his third on end and Sambuoyant (Glen Boss) managed to get a second for the season.

Boss has sharpened up the tactical battles at the Valley with his penchant for circling the field and dashing clear if he doesn't like the tempo and was at it again on Sambuoyant.

'All he can do is stay so it was important that he made it a staying test not a sprint home,' Boss said later.

But everyone is getting in on the act, with Whyte taking a similar role with Lightning Speed for the second time running and scooting away from the 600m turn to win.

'He's done a great job since he got the blinkers on, winning three,' said O'Sullivan. 'The only ace I might have up my sleeve is the dirt, because I think he'll handle that, but it might be the one thing between him winning again and just dying in Class 3.'

Ricky Yiu Poon-fie's strike rate continues to marvel and Zac Purton was aboard Elfhelm as he added another win for the talented conditioner.

'The way the track was tonight, Elfhelm felt more comfortable going to the gates than when I've ridden him before so that gave me a bit of confidence,' Purton said. 'I had to ride him back from gate 12 - we didn't have any options from there - but at least there was a bit of speed on to help him.'

By the time the dust cleared outside the stewards room, remarkably there was only one jockey suspended. Glen Boss copped two penalties for the one ride on Encore Win in race six. He was banned for two days for interference after the start and fined $50,000 for two counts of careless riding.