On the Rails

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2009, 12:00am

We hate to harp. Well, perhaps not in some cases. It's that time of the year and our December hobby horses are just coming right in their coats and starting to get that be-on-me look, so we thought we would trot them out for a run on the eve of international week.

Firstly, the International Jockeys' Championship (IJC) next Wednesday and the glaring omission, yet again, of a South African representative.

Not to put too fine a point on it, and no disrespect intended to Joe Talamo or Chantal Sutherland, but their appeal is novelty value, regardless of their ability.

Punters will have little or no faith in riders from a part of the world that has had little participation here, outside of the IJC, in well over a decade and even less impact. They may well draw the right horses and the right gates and manage to win the thing and good luck to them both - having a North American rider in the contest is the right move.

But two from North America and none from South Africa, the source of the Hong Kong championship winner Bart Leisher 21 years ago and in every year since 1992, with the sole exception of Tony Cruz's last championship in 1995?

Not just this year but every year, the South Africans are left out.

Once again, South African Douglas Whyte gets a gig as the reigning Hong Kong champion, representing Hong Kong according to all the Jockey Club releases.

We'd be quite happy for him to be South Africa's rep instead, but the point is that nobody gets that tag, and it ignores how fundamental to racing here the South African riders have been over a long period.

The Jockey Club saw fit to fly Felix Coetzee back for the unveiling of a Silent Witness statue two weeks ago, but he can't get an invitation to the IJC, nor can any other fit candidate from that jurisdiction.

If it's about building bridges, there is a young, native African jockey, S'manga Khumalo, making news and apparently being hailed by some as one of the best to come through South Africa's academy system.

He has been reported as being the first native African rider to compete outside his country when he rides in Australia this week - at Mudgee. That's the equivalent of coming to Asia to ride and going to Thailand.

Whether he is the answer or not, surely it doesn't have to wait until Whyte loses a championship or leaves town before somebody gets a guernsey for South Africa in this series.

The other traditional pre-international item that seems to talk a good game each year but never happens is the ante-post Hong Kong International Races betting.

With less than two weeks to go before the international meeting, a simple internet search found eight online bookmakers already touting for business on the four Group One events on December 13. Doubtless there are others.

Each year, though the Jockey Club ums and ahs, it simply doesn't happen. We aren't talking about fixed odds on racing generally, which would have some serious issues, including integrity perceptions and isn't worth the trouble.

We are talking about ante-post markets on the four international events which, as chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges himself has pointed out in the past, would serve less as a turnover bonus than as a promotional tool for the meeting.

The success of soccer betting and the only fixed odds offered on racing, the Jockey Challenge, which now routinely holds HK$7 million a day, shows that punters do warm to the concept. In fact, pre-post international betting has been hovering around for several years without happening, while Jockey Challenge betting was never discussed until two years ago and has become a worthwhile reality.

Ante-post markets would, at the very least, serve as a valuable guide to local punters who are utterly unfamiliar with the foreign contenders and bet accordingly on the internationals each season.

As it stands, they'll just have to go to the internet to get a guide, though the accuracy of that is questionable in some aspects - bookies have posted Sacred Kingdom as the 4.5 favourite for the Sprint in most markets but shown scant regard for the other Hong Kong chances, with Inspiration at 14-1 and the likes of Green Birdie, One World and Joy And Fun available at odds from 33-1 to 66-1 and the outsiders of the race.

As a matter of interest, Youmzain shares favouritism with Viva Pataca for the Vase at 4.0, Good Ba Ba is a very short-priced favourite for the Mile at 2.3 with UK bookies but is 3.2 in Australia and Collection and Presvis are fighting for top billing in the Cup at around 3.5.