On the Rails
with Alan Aitken
The new season has been slapped, begun to cry and gurgle but the issues that will take up the time and space of this column are not yet even crawling, so this week affords an opportunity instead to look out and feel smug to be racing here rather than, well in France for one.
One of the niggling background issues with the future of commingling of bets is that old chestnut of harmonisation of racing rules.
Other international sports have the same rules, whether the event takes place in New York, Prague or Caracas, but racing's localised origins have left it with some atrocities lodged deep in the rules and the psyche of the game depending on the venue.
Trust the French to have produced, even by their own lofty standards, one of the silliest race results of all time last weekend to highlight just how impossible such a proposition as harmonisation might prove.
The relevance, and the irony, of this one is that leading French racing officials have already broached the matter at an informal level with leaders from other jurisdictions, including Hong Kong.
In those discussions, the French have given voice to a foolish, arrogant view that other centres should fall into line with their own laughable rules in order to encourage French punters to bet on racing elsewhere.
Well, if Sunday's Group One Prix Vermeille - no ordinary Group One either, but a major lead-up for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - is any guide, we know who needs to change. That race featured France's current unbeaten darling, Stacelita, going for her sixth win and she was given a lovely run third on the fence behind pacemaker stablemate, Volver, to the home straight.
Volver then lent weight to all the most serious arguments against pacemakers by rolling just two horses off the fence about 300m out, enough to give a saloon-rails run to Stacelita and also enough to remain a weakening obstacle for almost everything else in the field. But pacemakers are not the issue in this case.
Stacelita was followed throughout the race and through the gap by the second favourite, English-trained Dar Re Mi, who also ran through the space left by Volver and gave chase. In turn following Dar Re Mi was a German filly, Soberania, who was unable to get past Dar Re Mi and into a run that was never going to be hers and suffered very minor interference of a kind which occurs frequently.
From that point, Dar Re Mi ran on strongly, overhauled the favourite to win, and Soberania was left behind in fifth with no excuse. The correct horse won but apparently memories of Agincourt dim very slowly at Longchamps and the stewards saw fit to demote Dar Re Mi to fifth, behind Soberania, leaving Stacelita as the winner.
Even backers of the favourite - though, doubtless, rather thankful in a financial sense - found the decision incredible. Stewards may well have enforced the rules but, as Dylan Thomas' Arc win showed, they are a fluid consideration at best and a terrible embarrassment for any fair-minded French racing person.
So we come back to the original proposition: that other jurisdictions should adjust to the France's so-called rules.
The burning down of a grandstand or the odd OTB would seem the most likely result if punters in Hong Kong were to be subjected to this nonsense with any frequency, so, for the pittance in commingling turnover likely to be generated by France, it hardly seems reasonable to be altering any rules to make its officials happier.
But then commingling is intended to be a two-way street.
Perhaps French punters will actually warm to the rules in place here and feel more confident betting into Hong Kong than taking what is clearly pot luck in their own country.