On The Rails
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 12:13pm

Was Hohhot meeting the dawn of a new era or a new era of false dawns?


Alan Aitken has worked in all facets of the media and was the master of the famous AJC Punters Podium at Sydney racecourses for many years. He was one of Australia's most respected racing journalists over almost two decades with The Sydney Morning Herald before joining SCMP in 2001. Alan also has extensive magazine and radio experience and is a respected racing form analyst.

Our newspaper readers should definitely make sure they have a gander at colleague Michael Cox's Happy Lucky Dragon Win blog at scmp.com - it's a blog so it doesn't, by definition, appear in the paper - to get a flavour of 'the race meeting to save the world' in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, on the weekend. Our tag, not theirs.

We aren't sure if it heralded the dawn of a new era or a new era of false dawns, but we do have theories.

And the cheeriest smiles post-Hohhot will surely be on the faces of those involved with the next mainland sideshow. Yes, the dogs bark and the caravan jingles on to Chengdu next month - supposedly on October 26 - for Sheikh Mohammed's crew to have a throw at the clown with the open mouth. (We just hope they realise, old roustabout's observation, that the mouth of the clown is only as wide as the ball they are throwing, if that.)

Certainly, the Darley team is matching the China Horse Club at this stage when it comes to a lack of information on how it is all coming together down at Chengdu. It's a nice change not to be bombarded with propaganda for these things, but very quiet.

All that seems certain is there is a date which is talked about and after that, presumably, it looks after itself. People have said that Dubai chief Frank Gabriel has been pulling his hair out getting it organised, but that would betray a lack of knowledge of Frank's prior condition, follicly speaking.

What Hohhot has done is at least set the bar low enough that Chengdu should have no trouble improving on it and giving the illusion of progress, although by what metric we don't grasp. Crowds? Jockeys? Horses? A track that can't also be used for keeping goldfish? Bar sales? Food concession profits? Betting turnover, certainly not. Maybe a better grade of winners' ribbons.

Actually taking place at all, and in whatever form it takes, seems to be the qualifying rule for gratuitous self-congratulation when it comes to race meetings in mainland China, no matter how often we point out that racing does happen there. It's betting on racing that doesn't happen, and that hasn't changed and isn't about to change.

But here and there, people with full pockets and cash-register eyes are positioning themselves to be in charge of wagering, or just to supply horses, on that day when the go-ahead for gambling takes place - notwithstanding the entire mainland political scene, currently in clean-up mode, appears less friendly to the idea than it has for a long time.

The temptations for heavyweight local businessmen, or worse, if betting on racing suddenly went open slather on the mainland for everyone with enough land to sketch out a racetrack are too many to go into in this space, but the scenario wouldn't be pretty.

And those are just the types of games that the central government seems intent on rooting out and preventing.


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