On the Rails

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2011, 12:00am

It is hard to escape the notion the Jockey Club has shot itself in the foot over the composition of the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby this Sunday and we can't quite work out to what benefit.

Last weekend, when multiple scratchings all over the card saw the club handing back millions in void bets to punters - albeit delaying the starts of races so as to give them time to reinvest - there was the usual wringing of hands and gnashing of Jockey Club teeth.

All over a situation which, more often than not, is outside the control of the club, given horse racing continues to be undertaken with live animals. And we don't mean the jockeys.

Incidents will occur and at those times - cynics might suggest that probably only half of those times, actually - horses are declared non-runners and money has to be returned. That's life and if it costs a little in precious turnover, then so be it.

But then you have the situations which are absolutely in the control of the club and will cost in turnover and it begs the question: Why?

Such a situation is the early declaration of the Derby field last Wednesday at Happy Valley, before Saturday's meeting which would certainly have changed the composition of the Derby for the better.

Let's be clear, Mark Up had earned his place in the Derby field at the time it was declared and was entitled to it. Had the officials sat down to decide the field a few days later, however, his place would have gone to Destined For Glory, who now sits on the sidelines as a realistic chance in the race who most likely won't get a start.

In turnover terms, and turnover seems to be the only means of exchange at Sports Road these days, it will be the difference between Mark Up going around at 100-1 and holding precious few tickets and Destined Flor Glory having plenty of support as a contender.

The only apparent reason for the declaration of runners last Wednesday was to stage a function of sorts in the parade yard at Happy Valley which was electronic media-friendly. A minimum of pomp, a dash of ceremony, eye of newt, toe of frog and a lame soundbite or two and there was your general media coverage. Stir and serve bubbling hot.

Of course, that could have been done on Monday lunchtime, too, when all the cards had been played for the Derby, instead of leaving the club with hands tied when circumstances changed in the final race on Saturday.

With international selections announcements we are in full agreement about timing - foreign runners and connections do need time to organise themselves to get here - but when your big-race field is all boxed at Sha Tin and could be rounded up at half an hour's notice, it makes little sense when the club has absolute authority about when these things happen and has a duty to itself to assemble the best field.

There will be the argument John Moore had as much time as everyone else to get Destined For Glory up and running and into the race, and that almost every year, the final meeting before the Derby has no significance for its composition.

But that's a purely defensive view that not only allows this single incident to slip through the net but also ignores the possibility it may happen again.

For the sake of the race itself, as well as turnover, Destined For Glory would have been an important inclusion and the club has only its lack of imagination to blame for missing it.