Happy Lucky Dragon Win

'Wacky Races' makes its way to Sha Tin

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 6:52pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 12:14pm

All we needed was Dick Dastardly in the Mean Machine being chased by Penelope Pitstop and Peter Perfect in his Turbo Terrific, all charging along the outside fence, because last Saturday was the closest we are ever going to get to Wacky Races at Sha Tin. Punters were that perplexed they were praying for more races on the much-maligned all-weather track, just for some certainty.

Wacky Races might have been a ridiculous 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoon but it looks normal stacked up against the madness that played out in Sha Tin’s six turf races around a bend last weekend – and betting on it would be far less nerve-wracking.

Where do you look when 14 horses turn for home and head to otherwise uncharted sections of the track, and how do we judge the form? “Screw it up and toss it in the bin,” said one leading trainer.

The rail was in the “C+3” configuration. To save the inside sections of turf from wear and tear, the running rail is shifted across the track to varying positions during the season – A is the true position, out to A+3, B, B+2, C, with C+3 being the widest. So the running rail was in fact 12 metres closer to the outside than usual. It means getting to the favoured firmer ground on the outside is easier, and therefore the ground lost in getting there is more easily offset by the faster speeds out wide.

Tye Angland was the trendsetter in race one, taking Robust Momentum to the outside fence and zipping along the turf travelator. Robust Momentum’s trainer, Caspar Fownes, wasn’t aware of Angland’s intention to head wide and admitted to having his heart in his mouth when his fancied runner disappeared from the camera shot for much of the straight. Eagle-eyed racecaller Brett Davis alerted viewers to the looming threat charging late.

In the next turf race, when Angland missed the start by about eight lengths on Lucky Bonus, he looked even less likely to win, but swooped to score easily, with Douglas Whyte following him across on Ah Bo and finishing third. The top three finishes from the two intrepid travellers confirmed the insane day ahead.

Give Angland extra credit for his first explorer status, but heading to the outside when the rail is in the C+3 position is nothing new, although it happens more on rain-affected days when the discrepancy between the give in the ground on the inside and outside is greater.

Brett Prebble did it twice in a day in May 2012 when Common Goal and Familists won after coming with wide runs on a wet day. Christophe Soumillon got a mention a few times last Saturday, with many recalling his daring effort on Good Ba Ba in a Class Three in 2006.

Of course we had to have the outlier – when everyone heads wide and the horse tailed off last throughout stays on the inside and wins. In this case, it was G-One Leader.

By the final race and Flame Hero’s five-length romp, all that was left were a number of tricky results from which it is hard to ascertain anything in terms of form.

The racing looked, and was, absurd. There’s the glorious uncertainty of racing and all of that, but then there is downright wacky. The problem is the ever-narrowing fast lane on the outside fence – few would risk heading there if the inside ground was much the same. Jockey Club racetrack manager John Ridley cited an increase in turf trials as a contributing factor and it’s hard to have less of them when we already have as many as 14 horses in some heats.

Colleague Alan Aitken suggested the starting stalls be moved back to the inside rail for the 1,000-metre sprints, to cut down the advantage of horses drawn wide. That  only provides a slight adjustment in those straight races and the gates were moved to the outside because of safety issues.

It’s a tricky one because trying to solve a problem by introducing another variable – like over-watering to stop the track surface becoming greasy during light drizzle as was the case last Saturday – can be a slippery slope.