On the Rails
There will be areas of the Chinese media doing their victory laps at the penalties handed out to Jeff Lloyd and, to a lesser extent, Terry Wong Chi-wai yesterday under the reasonable and permissible measures rule, but we still have a few misgivings with the way the handling of the rule has trended in recent years.
Certain sections of the local media like to see jockeys hung and drawn and quartered on a regular basis, with Lloyd in recent weeks challenging Darren Beadman's position as their favoured sacrifice.
He was even credited with causing Shanghai Pioneer to put in the false stride at the 200m at Sha Tin that turned him from a certain placegetter into an also-ran. It's a judgment of the ride that gave Lloyd great credit for horsemanship in one way and none at all in another more obvious way. Let it be said first of all, we don't believe Lloyd sets out to get horses beaten - something his record well and truly supports - but, had he been of a mind to ensure Shanghai Pioneer didn't win, then riding a good race for 1,200m of a 1,400m race and issuing a well-timed challenge was just not the way we would have done it.
Nevertheless, our view is that the guilty findings yesterday can certainly be argued in what turned out to be quite egregious cases under this rule, but it still strays in the direction of cherry picking jockey errors.
You can guarantee we will see a lot of erroneous rides at Happy Valley tonight, when a moment's decision at the wrong part of a race will see a horse's chance to win or finish in the best possible placing destroyed. Was there a similar argument to be made about any number of rides in the third event last Wednesday, when we had a line of seven or eight leaders going to the first turn over 1,200m?
Tactical errors are inherent in racing everywhere but more so at Happy Valley with the rail out and the stewards' professional understanding of how a race unfolds is integral to sorting out the intent from the result. We have recorded in the past that certain applications of the reasonable and permissible measures rule, which was originally devised as a back way into handling non-triers, have strayed into punishing even understandable tactical mistakes and straight out decent rides as well as catching the odd jockey whose urgency was indeed under question.
In Lloyd's case last week, he did err in not closing the gate on Supreme Taiji in the early stages, but the South African appeared to take the view that the space was his to occupy whenever he wished. With Supreme Taiji having missed the start, Lloyd, on Supreme De Union, appeared to stay out in the four path to the first turn in order to make it just that much tougher for the horses trying to cross from wider on the track and was at least as surprised as anyone when Supreme Taiji came rattling through underneath him, making up several lengths in 100m. The subsequent consequences of that error meant Lloyd was not only wide but subsequently in trouble and lost his place in the field.
So a lap of honour over it is of dubious worth, even if, as we stated earlier, the case can be argued - his decision not to cross immediately led to a poor series of outcomes.
But the ultimate result of jockeys becoming robots who hand up soft leads to others or sit wide where their draw maps them, as they do in Japanese racing, is the death of competitive initiative but at least they won't be punished for it.
It's a fine line.