Kelly backs starter over Flush withdrawal
The honeymoon was over in the stewards' room yesterday with careless-riding bans for four jockeys and new chief stipe Kim Kelly jumping to the defence of the starting officials after hot favourite Royal Flush was withdrawn at the gates.
The scratching of the 1.4 favourite a minute before the sixth event saw the Jockey Club forced to return just over HK$45 million in bets to punters, who had little time to reinvest, and drew harsh criticism of the starter and his team in some quarters after Royal Flush had not been permitted to load last of the 14 runners.
Once in the gates, the Tony Millard-trained Royal Flush became fractious and flipped himself over backwards, producing cuts on his head and mouth, and Kelly was quick to defend the speedy withdrawal of the boom sprinter.
'As far as the withdrawal is concerned, the stewards panel is 100 per cent behind that - you have an odds-on favourite which not only cut his head and mouth but landed very heavily on his back,' Kelly said.
'I think if he'd been allowed to run after that then people would have been asking plenty of questions why.
'As a punter, you wouldn't want your money on him after all that, and as an owner or trainer you don't know whether he's hurt his back in the incident or not at that stage. If he runs, any injury could be seriously aggravated,' he added.
Kelly said the decision not to put Royal Flush into the gates last had been made on the basis of his past history.
'The starters knew that he is a colt and a bit fresh and made allowance for that by putting him down to go in third last, but the two who were listed to go later - Lucky Red and Belong To Casa - have a history of being a problem at the barriers and have been late withdrawals in the past,' Kelly said.
'Royal Flush had no pre-existing history.'
But the stewards' day didn't end with the late withdrawal, with Olivier Doleuze, Greg Cheyne, Douglas Whyte and Jacky Tong Chi-kit all finding themselves on the wrong end of a careless-riding charge, and Brett Prebble questioned along the same lines before a stirring defence saw him escape penalty. All four riders received two-day bans with Doleuze (The Only Kid) getting a HK$40,000 fine on top as well for an incident in the final 200m of the seventh race.
Cheyne received his ban after landing a massive betting move, from 12-1 to start 3-1 favourite on Millard's High Intelligent in the fifth event, crossing over from gate 14 to sit outside the leader before outgunning front-runner My Whisky in a tough stretch duel.
'It's a shame to get a suspension so early, especially when I've kicked off pretty well with two winners,' said Cheyne. 'Bitter sweet I guess, but at least he won. The fitness edge probably made the difference after he ran well without much luck on Wednesday night at Happy Valley.'
Out of pocket
The late scratching of Royal Flush forced the return of this much in bets: HK$45m