Club makes headway on long-standing matters

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 March, 1994, 12:00am

HAS something stirred deep within the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club? This column, with the betterment of racing the only objective, has consistently mentioned the same themes on and off for the past four seasons.

The need for more vigour in raceday stipendiary stewarding; the dreadfully iniquitous substitution rule in the race-to-race double bet which robs punters of their money in a scandalously high-handed fashion; the selection of races for the Double Trio and the quality of the barrier attendants.

Well, on one of these subjects at least, and quite possibly two, there have been very welcome developments over the past few of weeks.

Full marks indeed to starter Michael Tibbatts for having the open-mindedness to call in a couple of Britain's top starting-stall staff to help knock the rough edges off his team.

Alan Garrard who runs the Yorkshire-based handlers and John Bartlett who is in charge of the Scottish starting-stall team are coming to the end of a fortnight's stay in the territory.

They have found and are helping to sort out what is really an over enthusiasm in Tibbatts' men.

There is no question of their lack of bravery, rather it is the opposite. Sometimes they have been too keen, buzzing round the horses like bees round a honeypot.

This has been more apparent in the morning barrier trial sessions than on racedays as the horses racing are the ones which have passed their gate tests and are not so difficult to load.

The suggestions made by Garrard and Bartlett are only slight but it is already noticeable that things are flowing much more smoothly, especially at the trials.

In short, less haste and more speed has been the key and, it is a pleasure to report, it is working.

As for the Double Trio races, it is no coincidence that the past two weekends have produced bumper payouts of over a million and then Sunday's $400,000-plus.

This simply reflects the fact that the Double Trio events have comprised competitive races of full fields of 14 runners.

Let's hope it has been by design rather than by accident.

SURELY it is time to end the rule which leads to retained riders sitting in the stands if their trainer or owner decides to opt for another expatriate jockey.

This happened a number of times a few seasons back and so nearly cost the late Noel Barker the championship.

On Sunday, Basil Marcus was left sitting in the weighing-room for race six as it was thought that he was retained to ride William's Tact for whom his retaining trainer David Hill had booked Mick Kinane.

Under the Jockey Club's interpretation of the rules, Marcus was prevented from riding Mr Bunny. (Ironically, it has since emerged that he could have ridden Mr Bunny as he is not retained by William's Tact's owners).

But that is not the point.

What is the point is that the smaller trainers, who don't have retained riders, should have access to the likes of Marcus if their current retainers don't choose to make use of them.

Say there had been a full field of 14 so that such a top rider as John Marshall wasn't spare to partner Mr Bunny instead of Marcus? Then it is quite conceivable, indeed highly likely, that a smaller trainer such as Alex Wong Siu-tan is denied access to a first-class jockey.

Where is the fairness in that? THIS year's Derby form had its first test on Sunday and runner-up All Thrills' performance confirmed what most had suspected. The Derby form is good but not that good and almost certainly not as good as in the previous three seasons.

On Sunday, All Thrills was a creditable fifth to Right Way, beaten 23/4 lengths while in receipt of eight pounds (excluding Stanley Chin's five-pound claim).

This leaves this year's top four-year-olds some way from the likes of River Verdon, Winning Partners, Sound Print, Helene Star, Motivation, Happy Guy and Concert King.