We had to play it safe, says Jockey Club on 'erratic track'
Jockey Club officials defended a decision to put extra watering on Sha Tin racecourse on Saturday morning for safety reasons after the track became the bizarre stage for even more of a four-legged lottery than usual.
On a track still rated good, Tye Angland set the tone of the day by taking the first winner Robust Momentum right to the outside fence and finding the "fast lane" and the other jockeys soon followed suit.
It was a scenario more in common with stormy days later in the season on very wet tracks, not on good tracks in February, but John Ridley, the club's director of racing operations, said that the extra watering had been necessary to protect riders.
"Safety is paramount," Ridley said. "We always water before a meeting, but where I would normally put 2 1/2 millimetres of water on the track on race morning, today we put on 4 millimetres. We had a good track with a good grass cover, but the forecast for the afternoon was for light drizzle and we didn't want that drizzle sitting on top of the grass and making it greasy. That's when horses can slip. I wanted to put enough water on the track that the horses would get their toe in and get a proper grip."
However, with the rail in the widest C+3 position, going to the outside rail can hit a fast lane without spending too much ground to get there and the outside section dries faster when there's more moisture around affecting the ground.
"It's faster out there because of the trials. We are running more grass trials than ever, so that part of the track against the outside rail is used more and has to be repaired and filled more than the rest of the track," Ridley said. "There has always been a bias there, as long as I've been in Hong Kong, but where once we ran one set of grass trials a month, we are running them more often now."
Angland wasn't aware of the science behind it, or that the extra watering had taken place, but said he had heard the Jockey Club's commentators discussing the C+3 course in their preview discussions of the meeting.
"I heard Brett Davis mention how it was unusual to see anyone go out there these days except when it was very wet, but that horses had gone out there and won in the past," Angland said. "I was drawn out in the first race, so I thought if I was in a position to get out and find the fast lane, I might try it."
Outside rail horses dominated the straight course - as is usual - in the second contest and then the third event was on the all-weather.
But, back on the turf in the fourth, Angland used the outside path again on Lucky Bonus, who had missed the start by eight lengths, and Lucky Bonus' remarkable performance to win set the pattern of the day in stone.
"Then it worked against me in the fifth on the favourite, Silly Buddies. I actually didn't want to go out there because he's a horse that lays in but almost every jockey went out and the tide just took me with them," Angland said.