Opening day hit by smaller fields

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 August, 2010, 12:00am

The Jockey Club will have to swallow the 'start-of-season medicine we had to take' on opening day at Sha Tin, with all but one of Sunday's 10 races undersubscribed in a sharp departure from tradition.

Historically, the opening day is overloaded with entries as owners and trainers elbow to get the new term under way, and only the feature, the Chief Executive's Cup, is regularly short on numbers due to its high rating eligibility.

But the shortest off-season break in Hong Kong's history has taken its toll. Numbers won't even be close to last year's 132 runners, after only 108 entries were received yesterday - five of them after entry time was extended for nine of the races - and the longer racing season is to blame.

The club staged five extra meetings last season, with quirks of the calendar around holiday meeting dates complicating things further, and the summer break was reduced to 52 days from the final meeting of last season to the first of the new one.

'This is the start-of-season medicine we had to take and these first two Sha Tin meetings are going to be affected,' executive director of racing Bill Nader said yesterday.

'Our field sizes were very strong last season, with our average up to 12.7 runners a race, and fields were full right up to the end. We were due to show some weakness and when we were seeing fewer horses barrier trialling, it seemed very likely the start of the season was where it was going to happen.'

Nader said the Jockey Club would have preferred a September 12 start, but Friday public holidays had made it impossible to accommodate two meetings into those weeks.

'Having two one-meeting weeks made it difficult to fit the 83 meetings in without leaving us with the shorter break,' he said.

Though turnover is inextricably tied to field sizes, Nader believes the sub-par fields are not a concern or an indication for the season ahead. 'I see the season as a whole being very healthy again in terms of field sizes and, by the end of September, things will get back to normal,' he said.