Piggott a victim of petty Club politics

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 March, 1994, 12:00am

''IT'S all politics,'' was Lester Piggott's characteristically succinct and accurate appraisal of the situation which cut short his international licence to ride in Hong Kong by three meetings.

''It's all politics,'' came the analysis from a Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club official, referring to the same truncating of Piggott's licence due to his decision to ride in yesterday's Macau Derby.

So politics it must be - and damn petty ones at that.

The Macau Jockey Club is a member of the Asian Racing Conference on the same footing as the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Surely, as fellow members of the same umbrella international racing organisation, they should be trying to help each other whenever possible and in such ways so that it wouldn't harm the Hong Kong betting turnover and, therefore, the funds available for charitable dispersion.

But the reverse scenario appears to be the case with the Jockey Club over here showing a knee-jerk reaction to virtually any initiative emanating from Macau.

Remember how they didn't permit Jimmy Ting to ride over there last season? Remember Macau's then director of racing, Peter Smiles, being banned from attending the start at one Happy Valley meeting in an amazing snub? Remember how the season was extended here to compete with Macau back in June 1990, exposing our horses to the potential threat of heat stress? And now we have the world's most famous jockey basically drummed out of Hong Kong because he wanted to ride in the Macau Derby.

Let's be quite open-handed about this. We all have reservations about the way racing is administered in Macau and the quality of the sport there does not approximate with the feast served up in Hong Kong.

It is no coincidence that such world-class professional racing administrators as Smiles, or former racing manager Bill Charles, or former chief stipe Brian Killian, have not been supported in their roles by those who really call the shots in the MJC.

But given the MJC has been admitted to the Asian Racing Conference, and presumably supported in that admittance by the RHKJC, it should not be treated like a racing pariah.

Nor should Lester Piggott be denied the rights which are extended to other riders.

The Jockey Club here have allowed Mick Kinane to ride in Australia and Dubai and quite right, too.

They have correctly allowed Club jockey Jeff Lloyd to return to ride in South Africa and it is only fair that they are allowing Lance O'Sullivan to pop down to Australia to ride in the Australian Jockey Club's Derby.

So what is so very different about a helicopter trip across the Pearl Estuary - once the MJC has been recognised as a member of the ARC? It is not even as if Lester would be missing a meeting here.

In short, the Club's actions at saying ''if you ride there, you can't ride here'' is on the same level of maturity and possesses the same depth of reasoning as saying ''it's my bat and ball and if you don't like it I'm going to take them home to mummy''.

And one other little thing. What about poor old sponsors Martell? They've put up a heap of money to sponsor the whole of Happy Valley's Grand National meeting on April 9.

They dearly wanted Lester to ride in Hong Kong to help promote their race day abroad, especially back in Britain which is taking two races live.

Now they've been left high and dry.

AT the time it seemed nothing short of scandalous that the result of the Brian Kan Ping-chee/Michael Tibbatts inquiry was not released until 11.15 pm on Wednesday night, despite all the evidence having been heard by 6 pm.

It appeared a very high-handed way to treat the press and the public as it meant that it missed the first editions of many papers whose deadlines fall well before 11.15 pm.

The health of any tote monopoly depends on the confidence the general public has in it.

This confidence is fostered by an enlightened attitude but will wither if information is withheld.

So there is no altruism involved in releasing details to the press as soon as possible.

Rather it is in the Jockey Club's best interests.

This is why, on the face of it, it was wrong for racing to take five and a quarter hours to let everyone know the fate of Kan and Tibbatts.

But it was an odds-on chance in the beginning that there was much more to this delayed decision than met the eye, as the very approachable HongkongBank supremo Paul Selway-Swift chaired the inquiry.

He more than shares the same passion for the game as the man in the stands and does much to promote the sport.

It duly transpires that the delay was due to Jockey Club fears that should Kan and fellow trainers be unhappy about the decision handed down, they were prepared to disrupt Wednesday night's meeting by withdrawing their runners for a race.

So the delay was, after all, in the best interests of the sport.

The only problem is that this threat of disrupture never existed.