Bring more Group races to city track

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2012, 12:00am


Last week's 'experiment' with the January Trophy being elevated to Group Three status could not have been seen as anything, but a victory and left a number of trainers wondering why there are not more good races at Happy Valley.

Betting was more than satisfactory with HK$123 million wagered on the first Group event for almost 10 years and surely encouragement for the club, which, after a decade s of deliberately downgrading Happy Valley to a second tier track has now taken up the cudgel to return the city venue to something like its old status.

Before the January Cup, the previous Group standard feature in town had been Bull's Eye in 2002 winning the Happy Valley Trophy, a race which regularly featured the best available sprinters just as the Centenary Sprint or Chairman's Sprint might do.

In 2000, the great Fairy King Prawn won the Happy Valley Trophy, sailing around the circuit under 135 pounds to beat a top quality field as the ultimate knock for the view that it is not a track for good horses. And that seems to have been the problem, with Happy Valley's image poisoned in the minds of officials and that taint passed on to many racing fans and owners.

And that is where the trainers were lining up to point out what a success the elevated January Cup had been last week. Even the trainers who didn't win the race were happy to be able to go there with a good quality horse for a good quality race with nice stake money.

Too many of them have heard too many times from owners 'oh, you only bought me a Happy Valley horse' and have been unable to explain that good horses can race there too, since the design of the season had changed over many years to close Class One opportunities at the track. It became self-fulfilling that good horses didn't race there, rather than a function of the track and its idiosyncrasies.

So now the door is open.

Even winning trainer Tony Cruz pointed out owners, so strongly encouraged by the club in the past 10 or so years to go out and buy top-grade horses, were spending ever more money to secure Derby horses, only to find that there was only one Derby winner each season.

In order to offer returns on that spending, the club needs to spread the types of opportunities for the horses so purchased, like last week's winner, Pure Champion. Many of the multimillion-dollar purchases - especially some of those bad-footed Europeans - may prefer the kinder surface at the Valley, or even, dare we say it, on the appalling all-weather surface we so despise at this column.

The January Cup was a great step forward, and trainers say they would support a Group One race there just as readily. The door is open.