Extended bands will kill off competitive races
We are always grateful to the Jockey Club's handicapping department for providing topics for discussion and one of our favourites has resurfaced in the past couple of weeks.
With turnover up at every meeting, there is almost nothing that puts the Jockey Club off its game or dampens enthusiasm at Sports Road for whatever gets churned out these days.
After all, the conclusion of Jockey Club officials is that, if betting turnover is up, it means the customers are happy, the birds are singing, God is in His heaven and all is right with the world.
There would be no thought for what extended-band races are doing to a very good general handicapping framework that is, with wide weight spreads and the competitive racing they encourage, a great foundation for good betting races.
For the second time in recent weeks, an extended-band race has altered the landscape to its detriment at tonight's Happy Valley meeting, with race six seeing the spread of weights across all of the 12 runners reduced to just six pounds, instead of the usual 20. (We aren't sure why we also ended up with a top weight of only 124 pounds when the top-weighted runner, Easy Winner, has a rating of 85 in an 85-60 race, which should mean he is on 133 pounds, but no doubt there is a perfectly good explanation. Or an explanation. Or something that passes for one.)
At Sha Tin on February 19, the fifth race, rated 65-40, also had a reduced spread of ratings from 64 to 59 over 12 of the 14 runners.
This is because the trainers of horses in those brackets of 60-65 and 80-85 tend to hold them back for these extended-band events thinking they have some advantage as, on face value, they are racing in a grade below the one for which they would normally be qualified.
The reality, however, is the 65-40 race with the Class Four tag was almost all Class Three horses racing Class Three horses. Just as tonight's seventh race is for Class Two-eligible horses racing Class Two-eligible horses, with the exception of Hawthorne, who misses that qualification by one pound.
Perhaps we will reach the point where all the horses are rated 81 and we have a set-weights race.
Nothing does less for the general competitiveness of races than reducing the weight spread - something that kills off betting in other jurisdictions where official set-weights events are more frequent and big weight spreads are rare.
It is an abomination in this jurisdiction, where the normal set-up encourages real competition.
The reality of the current climate, though, for a number of reasons - not least of them the money finding its way into Jockey Club pools via illegal exchanges around Asia and illegal bookmaking on the mainland - is that turnover rises anyway.
Ask the horses to jump through flaming hoops at the 300 metre-mark with the jockeys playing Hark The Herald Angels Sing on the bagpipes and turnover would still be up. Draw the barriers and saddlecloth numbers randomly at the starting gates and turnover would still be up.
So any suggestion that anything is wrong falls on long-deaf ears.
The spread in pounds of the weights of all 12 runners in race six at Happy Valley tonight.
- The usual spread would be around 20lbs.