Macau's best racehorses will lose some of their handicap edge against Hong Kong rivals in the new conditions for the $2.3 million Hong Kong Macau Trophy at Sha Tin on January 30.
Taipa-trained Crown's Gift won the interport races last season on both sides of the Pearl Delta when Macau runners received a much-discussed 17-pound allowance in the handicaps.
In light of that dual success, the Hong Kong and Macau jockey clubs have now agreed to a lesser assistance of 15 pounds' allowance this term.
'Actually it was a difficult thing despite the fact that Macau won both of the races,' said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the Hong Kong Jockey Club executive director of racing yesterday.
'Clearly Crown's Gift did not deserve to receive a 17-pounds' allowance last season, and perhaps for the best one or two Macau horses, that is the case. However, I still wonder whether 15 pounds will be enough assistance for say the third, fourth, fifth-ranked Macau horses. We will continue to assess the situation as we run more races.'
The Sha Tin race was 1,600 metres in 2004 but will be reduced to 1,400m this time, as the clubs believed a rise in distance to the later 1,500m event at Taipa gave 'a better interchange' between events.
And last season, the first race was not open to four-year-olds as it was feared participation may interfere with their preparation for the classic races, but the Jockey Club now believes the HK-Macau Trophy could become an important part of that preparation.
'The races have been opened to four-year-olds as we think they will be looking for all the opportunities available to qualify for races like the Mercedes-Benz Classic Mile and the Derby,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
'With the improvement in the economy, we already have 16 new replacement horses in the 95-plus rating category - a sharp increase on the same time last year - and we think there will be more yet in this category. Many of those horses will be targeting the classic events and this will allow them one more feature race in which they can lay out their credentials.'
Horses will need to have raced twice in their own jurisdiction to qualify for selection.
The changes were ratified by the HKJC Racing Committee on Friday evening, which has also approved in principle plans to build new special areas for 'new customers' at Hong Kong racecourses.
While light on detail at this stage, Engelbrecht-Bresges said the intention would be to market the club's racing and betting entertainment to young professionals. 'Our market research shows that racing is not currently perceived as trendy in this group and that it needs to be packaged differently,' he said.