The story on Tuesday that Mongolia - actual Mongolia, not the Inner one of Hohhot fame - was preparing to legalise gambling on horse racing came as no real surprise, but some of the concepts in the story did.
As we approach the Asian Racing Conference in Hong Kong next week, this is a reminder of the Istanbul conference in 2012, where it was revealed that Mongolia had approached the Asian Racing Federation for assistance in setting up racing.
Not the horse racing of its traditions - dozens of 10-year-old kids riding ponies across the countryside for 15 kilometres (no dream job being a steward there, we'd wager) - but something the rest of the world would recognise: on a track and designed as a sport as well as a betting medium. Like here.
Mongolia has hit on the lack of legal horse racing betting in neighbouring China as its sure-win road to "market share" (whatever that is), to diversifying its economy at a moment in time when mining ain't what it used to be. To supplying pent-up demand in the way that gambling money leaks across mainland borders into Hong Kong racing, Macau casinos and even a burgeoning Vietnamese gambling industry.
And it has already got itself dressed and ready by copying the Hong Kong racing rules - nothing wrong with that and, in the era of attempted harmonisation of rules, probably encouraged.
All in all, not a bad plan, till we got to the part about Mongolia asking to use Hong Kong horses and jockeys. (Obviously, they were watching Chengdu, with the Dubai horses and jockeys).
Now that's crossing a line. Mongolia, we need to talk.
You came to us for help, so we gave you the couch, some advice and let you copy our homework, but, dammit, now you're borrowing the car, raiding the fridge and sleeping with our girlfriend. Get your own horses and jockeys - how hard can it be?
Our close second favourite line in the story was that, when the gambling bill is passed, it would be the first time Mongolia had allowed gambling since three politicians were convicted in 1999 over rigging the tender for a casino licence.
Great stuff, and you can see why they're keen to put another toe in the pool - but come on guys, if you want to do it, do it properly. There are no shortcuts to getting it right, only to messing it up.
Penalty plan bites back
Rival jockeys were rolling out the “moving the goalposts” line when Joao Moreira copped his sixth careless riding suspension of the season at the weekend.
It really is remarkable that Moreira is where he is on the table, starting at meeting 11 and missing 15 of the 53 meetings since through suspension – had he stayed out of the stewards’ room, the championship would be over.
Joao’s latest, though, made us wonder at the wisdom of spelling out a schedule of penalties which later comes back to bite at the pointy end of the punishments.
The current policies don’t allow for more than three-day bans for careless riding, but they do allow for a monetary component; when Moreira’s ban arrived on Sunday, the penalty schedule released in September shows he was due three days and two fines of HK$60,000, each in lieu of an additional day’s suspension.
Instead, he walked away with three days and one HK$60,000 fine, thus the feeling among riders that he was given a discount.
We hear there was lively debate between stewards and Moreira over whether three days and HK$120,000 was unreasonable. Apparently it was – but that isn’t what the schedule says.
The club ultimately answers to itself and the stewards have the eternal rule to fall back on: anything can be varied at any time for any reason without notice – so why not just issue penalties according to each case and its circumstances?
We long ago stated the view, when these combo penalties were introduced, that there is something morally wrong with fining one jockey HK$10,000 and another HK$60,000 for the same offence, simply on the basis of the latter’s ability to pay.
This is not the first occasion a stated policy on penalties has become untenable in similar circumstances, so why publish a schedule to which stewards can’t adhere?
QE II unlikely to switch
There was The Championships, then Dubai and then yesterday’s announcement that the Arc will go to ¤5 million (HK$53 million), making it the richest turf race in the world: prize money has become an arms race.
The Jockey Club has already flagged an unspecified increase for the QE II Cup, and we’ll leave that until we know more, but there was another idea floating about as to how it maintains competitiveness.
And that was to switch race dates with this weekend’s Champions Mile.
The idea has been around for some time that the QE II Cup and Champions Mile should be restored to the same day – now the Champions Mile doesn’t have a sponsor wanting a stand alone – and it would be attractive to have those two plus the Sprint Cup.
But horsemen are thinking an extra week to recover after Dubai would mean a better line-up for the QE II, and possibly have an effect on the difficulty of returning from the desert and performing. The idea has some merit in isolation – with no other considerations it might be the right move – but it has a problem attached; one more week to recover from Dubai, four weeks before the QE II, is one less week to prepare for Singapore, three weeks after the QE II. And, often, Singapore is a more realistic target anyway for our horses.
And the S$3 million price tag isn’t shabby – in fact, it’s HK$4.5 million more than the QE II so we might see horses missing the QE II to run at Kranji if they’re put in that position where doing both becomes too difficult.
Add to that a sense of co-operation between Hong Kong and Singapore that tends to preclude programming changes with negative impacts for each other’s feature races and shifting the QE II Cup might have to stay in the ideas tray.