Betting plunges raise doubts on racing integrity
Some observers of Hong Kong racing this season have been questioning whether the Jockey Club has ultimately made a rod for its own back in the coloured lights that highlight the firming runners on the tote board.
With overall turnover generally booming, we think it most unlikely the club would ever rethink this idea but the thumping that has accompanied so many winners has almost brought the whole thing into disrepute.
In some minds, it's almost unreasonable the brown-lighted runners - whose odds have firmed very significantly indeed - should win without some sort of inquiry into what happened there that meant the original market got it so wrong.
The initial intent of the highlights was undoubtedly to make it simpler for punters to identify the betting movers, so they could chime in to follow the money, and that would be a turnover builder for the club.
This season the 'God Of Lamp' runners have saluted so relentlessly, and the green and brown lights make it so obvious, that there will inevitably be people out there asking questions about integrity. Alas, even as they are asking those questions, it probably only makes the highlighting more of a generator of turnover since following the lit-up runners offers a perceived inside advantage.
Last Wednesday it was Healthy Manner and Happy Cha Cha, whose prices crashed down into the brown before they justified the backing. On the weekend, well, you can take your pick for the big firmers, but Epee De Hua's HK$100 to HK$39 move before winning took some upstaging even on a day when other winners dropped from HK$50 to HK$29 and HK$51 to HK$28.
But Sunday's events offered some support for the integrity of the races and for the view that at least in part the money is coming from illegal sources and being dumped back on the tote late in the piece.
The sixth race up the straight saw three significantly supported runners in First In Command, True Valour and Happy Reunion all light up before fighting out the three-way finish.
In the ninth, it was two of the big highlights, True Intelligence and St Fevre who arrived before the others.
If it was simply one runner, we might pin it down to one big punter or syndicate, or suspect some skulduggery, but multiple runners crunching down in the same race suggests something more along the lines of the morning tip network narrowing the chances right down in the races. The money finding its way into illegal sources on all the best fancied runners each race and then getting back into the legal channels late in the piece to reduce obligations makes more sense than the other options, but it shows the depth of the illegal betting out there.