On the Rails
with Alan Aitken
When the Jockey Club touts the quality of integrity in Hong Kong racing, most would understand that as ensuring everyone is doing the right thing in races and all reasonable and permissible measures are being taken. A wider interpretation of the concept though would be that all punters, owners and other interested parties gain a fair crack of the whip with a chance to win and that's the definition we like in this column.
So, with due regard to fairness to all, let's talk about the all-weather track last Saturday, because it was simply a disgrace.
Track bias is a blight on racing in other jurisdictions where racing is constant - almost every day, if not every day of the year - and the tracks frequently throw up the white towel and devolve into moving walkways in different parts of the course.
Hong Kong is rarely troubled by it. Except on the all-weather, a purulent sore on the otherwise peach-like complexion of racing.
Yes, there are places where racing on all-weather or dirt or some other artificial surface keeps the wheels of the business grinding through the constant bombardments of scheduling and weather. Good luck to them, that's their bed, they can lie in it.
But Hong Kong touts itself as a centre of turf racing - the Turf World Championships even.
We make no secret of the fact that - did you guess? - we hate all-weather racing. Never mind the argument that some horses would be out of play without racing on the dirt - some of them would be better equestrian horses, too, but that isn't the catalyst to the Jockey Club widening its sporting umbrella to bet on eventing or dressage. It provides one more unnecessary variant in the many variants that already make horse racing complex.
And even more so when up crops a two-lane highway, like the surface last Saturday, that gave the proper chance to only a limited number of runners in each race and punters betting on the others did their money cold.
Against the inside was that part of the beach next to water, where most people like to walk because it's easier. Go out three horses and you're on the soft sand where only the show-offs and triathlon runners do their thing, because it's tougher on the calves.
Despite the course running fast, leaders staggered home in very slow sectionals but still held on as if by magic - unless, like Spectacular Award, the run-on horses came up the rail. Horses which travelled up well and switched out rounding the home turn, disappeared into quicksand, never to be seen again.
Even by the all-weather's frequent standards, it was a standout bias, and that Chater D'Cat came three or four off to win the last dirt event was only the exception to prove the rule.
One of the regular patterns to serious track bias is that, by the time the final race comes around, the penny has dropped with everyone and they all work hard enough to get to the right part of the track that the winner will pick up the pieces and defy the bias.
Club officials insist the all-weather is necessary for reasons of track maintenance, even though it seems more like a good excuse to absent ourselves from betting for a race, or a meeting. So, assuming we do have to wear it on occasions, there is another point to be made.
The club does not release this information, so we have to rely on our spies, but we understand the clegg hammer readings taken at different parts of the track did indicate last Saturday that one part would play firmer than others.
But the official reading of the firmness of the ground is not a series of different numbers but just one, intended to indicate an average state of the going.
Averages can tell lies. The average on Saturday was apparently telling whoppers. So, if we must persist with it, perhaps a public disclosure of this relevant information might be in order.