Everyone a winner thanks to mainland bookies

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 January, 2010, 12:00am

Another race day on Saturday, another good jump in the betting figures year on year.

While the overall figures themselves - with total turnover, including Jockey Challenge betting, up by 4.3 per cent on the same point last season - are a nice enough and very reasonable increase in an improving business environment, there are a few different theories on where the boost is coming from.

Naturally, the increases in the Jockey Challenge betting are making a decent contribution, with those figures not officially spelt out but they seem to be running at a regular couple of million extra in the kitty. After 35 meetings, that is adding up.

One theory is that a lot of the money is coming from mainland bookies and the final race at Happy Valley last week lends some weight to that argument.

How else would one explain the betting on Sapelli, but in illegal operators betting back?

In a race where HK$8 million in roll-up money saw Go Lucky Go open at 1.5 after both trainer and jockey had lined up three earlier wins, the force of money arriving for Sapelli still saw him start a surprisingly short 2.3 favourite in what was a fairly competitive race on paper.

In addition to Go Lucky Go's support, the winner Green Jacket was also clearly expected by connections, yet went to post as a 6.8 chance.

Meanwhile, the professional value players lit up the longer odds of other horses like Beautiful Choice and Soldier.

Yet the sustained support continued for Sapelli, who as a consistent Size-Whyte runner with a good draw was just the sort of horse that bookies would be holding plenty of public tickets on, and the race produced an extraordinary HK$158 million handle.

Part of the agenda of the Jockey Club and the changes made to betting in recent years, including rebates, has been in trying to attract funds out of the illegal market into the dutiable avenues under its aegis.

If this theory is correct, then this is perhaps a more circuitous route than was intended.

But if there are big bookies operating on Hong Kong racing from over the border - and only the supremely naive would believe otherwise - they are clearly happy to bet back to the host and take the 10 per cent rebate for themselves, especially since they have to pass it on to customers anyway.

If that's from where the increase emanates, then so be it. The government gets its chop and, whatever the source, the smiles are becoming indelible on officials from Sports Road.