Stipes' failings dent public confidence
THE time has surely come for the Board of Stewards of the Jockey Club, comprising some of the most talented and upstanding men in the community, to look into the performance of the stipendiary stewards and, by implication, the racing department.
The keystone to any racing jurisdiction where a tote monopoly prevails is the confidence of the betting public which, in turn, is heavily dependent on two main areas.
First of all there are the stipendiary stewards. Their policing of races is fundamental.
They are the guardians of the public interest. They are as essential to the health of a racing system as an independent judiciary is to the preservation of a free society.
Then there is the press which has a similar responsibility as the stipes, as well as to perform the more basic task of relaying news to the betting public such as jockey and trainer comments after racing.
Last week saw two incidents in running, one of which was inquired into and one which was not.
These incidents once again raise the gravest doubts about the performance of the stipendiary stewards and, therefore, the racing department, as it is this department which controls the stipes.
But evidence is needed to warrant a call for the Board of Stewards to act, so here it is.
The stipes did inquire into the run of Dashing who ran 11/4 lengths and a short head third to Carry On Winning in the Sassoon Challenge Cup on Saturday, just missing out on the important quinella spot.
But they sought no explanation from jockey Michael Clarke as to why he took him wide into the first bend.
They didn't ask why, rounding the bottom bend, he appeared to be restraining a horse who was travelling conspicuously well and keen to improve his position.
In their own report they didn't note that the horse was hanging in.
Yet they accepted Clarke's explanation that the horse was hanging in.
Clearly this was Clarke's reason for why he had a stranglehold on the horse with his left hand over the final 100 metres, to the extent that his left hand was back by his own hips.
From a close scrutiny of the stipes' own footage of the race, it is hard to see the horse hanging very much, if at all, which is probably why the stipes originally made no mention of it.
This is the same horse who has run very well for an apprentice in the past, certainly not inconveniencing him.
Nor has Dashing ever been noted hanging on any of his previous runs and his trainer wasn't called to confirm the horse had a tendency to hang.
Nor is there any report of the stipes asking Clarke why he didn't put his whip down and ride him hands and heels which is more normal practice when a horse is hanging.
Furthermore, they didn't ask him why he was riding on a long rein on a hanging horse when it might well have been better practice to have been on a short rein, if the horse was hanging.
The other incident came at Happy Valley last Wednesday night and has been a major talking point among those who make a good living from betting on the races - those whose betting balances reflect they really can read a race.
The same theme has been raised by everyone.
Just why wasn't there an inquiry into the riding of Diamond Coast in the fourth event won by Ocean Pride? Diamond Coast was ridden with less vigour than when winning his previous start. That is indisputable fact.
He was hampered early on behind Ocean Pride but he ran home very strongly from the Rock without, seemingly, being put into the race.
What were the reasons behind this? There may be some very reasonable explanation. Maybe Eric Saint-Martin felt he had no room on the inside rail, maybe this, maybe that, maybe something else.
But the quintessential point is that the public are entitled to know and they weren't informed.
After all, Diamond Coast carried millions of their dollars and it is their money which keeps us all in this wonderful game.
That was last week and these are two very serious incidents which should have been more closely looked into than they were.
But there are also a host of more minor points of evidence over the past couple of months.
What about the inquiry into the Mick Kinane fall which was concluded without even speaking to Kinane? The stipes didn't see Best One get a hefty crack across the face with the whip as he and Lucky Clover fought out the quinella spot behind Ready.
They missed Dashing totally carve up Evasive Tactic in the Derby and they failed to take action after Blaze Of Glory appeared to very badly hamper Action Time down the straight.
There was Saint-Martin's bumping of the Kinane-ridden Jade Age which was glossed over.
There was the inquiry where Brian Kan and Saint-Martin's explanations were not accepted into the running and riding of Mr Judge but, by the stipes own lack of logic, no charges were laid.
And it took eight minutes to withdraw Winning Wave from a race as he careered riderless round the course causing punters who bet him in race-to-race doubles to lose their money in cold blood.
Against this background, how can the racing department be satisfied with its own stipendiary stewards panel? If this issue of the stipendiary stewards and, therefore, the racing department is not addressed as soon as possible and addressed once and for all, then there is the very real danger of an anarchical situation developing out on the track.
With that there is also the very real danger that the public's confidence in the sport will wither and betting turnover fall accordingly.
This, given the peculiar nature of Hong Kong society, would have important repercussions far beyond the bounds of the game as racing revenue is the lifeblood for so many important social bodies and projects.
Interestingly, in the United States the race clubs run the racing but not the policing of the races. They do not employ the stipes who are all paid by the state.
Additionally, the summary dismissal of the press from the weighing-room after the last race at Sha Tin on Saturday needs to be explained.
The press are not barred from Legco for 30 minutes after proceedings have finished, so what is so special about a race meeting, especially when it is the public who finance the whole shooting match? No doubt the Board of Stewards is not notified of such efforts to hinder reporting of the sport and, along with the chief executive, will be told of the reasons behind this initiative.