With fields already small, Club is feeling the Down Under EI factor

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2008, 12:00am

Today will see the first Australian-sourced shipment of horses since August arrive at Chek Lap Kok airport and the Jockey Club has breathed a collective sigh of relief.

But while the anxieties around Equine Influenza (EI) 'Down Under' are largely over, the knock-on effects will be felt in Hong Kong for some time to come.

Because, although these PPs (private purchases) and PPGs (private purchase griffins) will now start to trickle in, it will be conservatively another three months before any of them is ready to race. And the majority of them will probably not race this season at all.

The EI factor is already showing up in reduced field sizes.

The first symptom was a few fields lacking emergency acceptors. Then more than a few. Next, an occasional incomplete field, and now an abundance of them.

Last Saturday at Sha Tin, five of the 10 races were undersubscribed. And it will get worse before it gets better.

To the layman, a field of 10 horses might not seem inordinately different to a field of 14 as something on which to bet, but to the business of racing, it's a huge difference.

The mainstay of betting is quinella and quinella-place and, by way of example, the final event at Sha Tin last Saturday held over HK$58 million on those two pools collectively with a full field (prior to one late scratching).

In a field of 14, there are 91 Q and/or QP combinations. But in a field of 10, there are only 45. So the attractiveness and diversity of the betting product is significantly reduced, and turnover suffers.

Three races earlier, the feature race, the Centenary Vase hosted just nine contenders.

Yet, despite offering punters their favourite horses for the last two seasons, Vengeance of Rain and Bullish Luck, the Q and QP turnover combined was just HK$31 million.

Yes, field size is a big determinant in betting turnover. And while the season is going well financially for the Jockey Club, bubbling away at just over six per cent growth year on year, that upswing may be eroded in the second half of the term as EI-induced horse shortage kicks in.

Exactly how much, we'll need to wait and see. But it's a shame to see the positive start to the season, due to the build-up effect of the policy to introduce rebates on losing bets, being reversed by circumstances well and truly behind the Jockey Club's control.

For the record

Final event at Sha Tin last Saturday held over this in HK$ on Q and QP with a full field, compared to a 10-horse fields: 58m