Club to introduce 'double loading' to speed up starts
The Jockey Club starting team will adopt a fresh approach to shorten the loading time before races, with the team splitting up and loading more horses simultaneously.
This was one of the key recommendations yesterday at the end of a 48-hour debrief on Sunday's disastrous day at the Sha Tin starting stalls, which saw five horses scratched and more than HK$60 million in bets refunded to punters.
The five late scratchings took the season's tally to 12 after 30 meetings - equal to last year's tally for the 78 meetings and only four behind the 16 late scratchings the club encountered in the 2006-07 term.
Executive director of racing Bill Nader said last night that recommendations from his discussions with the starting team, head vet Brian Stewart and chief stipendiary steward Jamie Stier would be implemented immediately. They will include making the starting staff more available for barrier practices, hoping that prevention might prove better than cure.
'We will try to reduce the loading times before each race as much as we can,' Nader said. 'We hope to do that by double loading, in other words loading horses simultaneously, provided of course there is proper spacing [between the horses being loaded] and it's safe to do so.
'The object is to load them into the stalls and achieve a fair start as soon as possible, without having the horses standing too long in the barrier.'
Sunday's late scratching of even-money favourite Tuscan Spirit was particularly painful for the club. The John Size-trained galloper carried HK$50 million in bets, across all pools, and the refund alone cost the club a significant year-on-year turnover increase.
At the time, Nader hinted the team under starter Philip Waldron and assistant starter Tony McGovern might have to factor 'commercial reality' into their reckoning and Nader confirmed this at the conclusion of the review. 'My recommendation today is that when they have to make a judgment call, where two horses are ranked relatively equal in order of loading priority, that they should take the commercial aspect into account,' Nader said.
In other words, in Sunday's example, Tuscan Spirit might have been loaded last, or second to last, and the hugely expensive barrier mishap would most likely have been avoided.
One interesting figure to come out of the Nader investigation was that 11 of the 12 barrier scratchings this season have occurred at Sha Tin, and only one at Happy Valley, a bias that is not readily explained.
Quick off the mark
The Jockey Club has introduced plans to speed up horses being loaded into stalls
The number of horses that were scratched from last Sunday's meeting: 5