With a tote board with a reputation of being more random than the roulette wheels at the nearby Cotai Strip casinos, and nasty rumours of books being cooked and bets being cancelled suspiciously late - plus a turf track that seems perpetually water-logged – you could say the Macau Jockey Club has its share of problems with how it is perceived by the public.
But an occasional visit to Taipa Racecourse is a refreshing change from the member’s stand snobbery at Sha Tin and the racing itself is combative and willing. The standard is probably better than most people think. And whatever words you use to describe the racing experience in Macau, sterile is most definitely not one of them.
The MJC would love a tenth of the people that walk through the doors of the grandiose Galaxy casino next door, the gaudy gambling palace that looms ominously over the racecourse, and even a percentage point of the funds that are poured through the slot machines and thrown at the tables there would be handy too. It’s up uphill battle for racing here – for all of the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s brandishing of booming, billion dollar per meeting turnover figures, how would the Hong Kong Jockey Club fare if casinos sprang up overnight like mushrooms throughout the New Territories?
Even at a sparsely populated Taipa racecourse yesterday for the Macau Hong Kong Trophy, there was enough to keep us thoroughly entertained. As far as the negative perceptions of the tote board were concerned, well, the winners arrived in order most of the day, and the odds displayed seemed more stable than your average Hong Kong race. Granted, in the first race yesterday, the top three in betting all took a turn at favouritism in the last minute before the jump. But there was none of the “20s into 3s, and back out again to double figures” madness that we’ve witnessed in the past. The fancied trio finished top three too. As far as the turf track was concerned, it was rated heavy but raced fair. Winners could come from behind – as Olivier Doleuze did on Noble Alpha with a calm and calculated ride.
Doleuze actually spent a season in Macau after being suspended from riding in Hong Kong. The MJC took the flamboyant Frenchman in when he needed them most, and he has never forgotten - remaining a staunch supporter of racing in the former Portuguese colony.
Doleuze added that riding against some, how do we put it in our words? ... cowboys, was good for him.
“It’s a little bit dirty, but I like it. But it is good to get back to your roots and fight against those riders,” he said.
Yesterday’s Hong Kong representation of just two horses marked an all-time low for the Macau leg of the Interport series – and even the locals seemed happy that a visitor won for the third time in 10 years - hoping it would breathe life into the flailing concept. There’s some talk of the timing of the race being changed to later in the season, to encourage greater participation from Hong Kong horses.
“I hope the series doesn’t die, I’d even ride for Macau,” said Doleuze.
"Maybe this was a year was a bit empty – but I don’t think there is any reason why more horses will not come back here next year. This race is good when you can come with a horse like Noble Alpha, who has been competitive for the last few years, but unlucky, and had just run out of options. We come here and get a Group One in Macau – the owner is happy and he comes home with a nice trophy.”