The Natives Are Restless, Part I. This isn’t really a Hong Kong story but, sooner or later, regulatory stories in one section of the Asian Racing Federation (ARF) spill over into the purview of the Jockey Club for consideration.
The switch to padded whips in Australia has been taken up eventually by all ARF jurisdictions, including Hong Kong, and other issues of horse and rider welfare make their way in this direction, too.
So it does catch the eye when jockey safety issues in Australia are now threatening to bring the whole industry there to a complete stop in March.
The Australian Racing Board (ARB) is demanding that jockeys and trackwork riders move to using a new, larger helmet, which it says protects their heads more effectively in falls.
Alas, the study on these helmets seems to have focused on protecting only a jockey’s head, while making the neck and spine more vulnerable to catastrophic injuries.
The new helmets are bigger, heavier and more cumbersome to wear. They would be extremely protective if they encased the jockey’s entire body, but the jockeys might find it tough to ride like that.
Every interview, every comment we have seen by a rider who has tried the new helmets in barrier trials has, in essence, dismissed the idea of ever using one again for anything.
Champion former jockey Shane Dye weighed in yesterday with what amounted to an open letter on the matter and it seems the ARB is needlessly digging in for a fight it cannot possibly win.
It’s a little remarkable to see the ARB even attempting to throw around its weight, when its weight has always seemed a readymade substitute for helium.
You’ll recall the ARB was the body that claimed to speak on behalf of Australian racing right up until the moment Racing NSW flicked it out of the way in the Chris Munce case and ignored an ARB-signed agreement on the international reciprocation of penalties.
More recently, the ARB has spent its time trawling less challenging waters by giving in to every demand of animal activists to make itself look like the good cop in the whip debates.
All jockeys and track riders will be “required” to use the new helmets from March, but there is a giant slalom skier’s chance in the Sahara that it’s happening – jockeys throughout the country will refuse to ride and racing will cease.
Some jockeys say Kei Chiong is not ready for Valley
The Natives Are Restless, Part II. Closer to home. Is apprentice Kei Chiong Ka-kei ready for Happy Valley?
The Jockey Club issued a release last week that Chiong was to be permitted to ride at the Valley as of next Wednesday, but there are some dissenting opinions among some of our best jockeys.
We have no issue with her and no opinion on the matter. We hope she rides a million winners, but we also don’t ride against her and the only way we’ll suffer for her riding at the Valley is tripping down the stairs in the press room cheering her home on a winner.
However, there are some who do ride against her who think she needs more practice at the bigger track at Sha Tin before she is thrown into Happy Valley.
No doubt, these opinions – and we stress it is by no means one-way traffic, as there are some top rivals who have no objections – were canvassed by the Jockey Club before deciding in her favour.
Or were they?
Naturally, Chiong would not want her gender to be any part of the discussion, but there’s no getting away from the idea that the politics surrounding this are more intense than rival jockeys declaring a male apprentice unprepared.
Elsewhere, simmering in the background, we hear a meeting between trainers and the new executive director of racing business and operations brought forth barely a quorum, but still managed to throw out a controversial line.
It seems one of the trainers present, who has had a Class Five win this season, nevertheless demanded that Class Five winners not be counted towards a trainer’s win tally for the purposes of the performance criteria.
As a big fan of Class Five, we say, perish the thought. Now, the dirt, that’s another matter.
Magic Man cripples Jockey Challenge
They say one measure of greatness for any sportsman is the way he changes the game, not just the results he achieves, and Joao Moreira is altering the landscape of Hong Kong racing in an unexpected way – the Magic Man is single-handedly destroying the Jockey Challenge as we know it.
While the Jockey Challenge is and has always been a novelty, barely a blip on the turnover screen for racing, there would be plenty of other jurisdictions envious of the money it has been used to holding each meeting.
For quite a few years, the Jockey Challenge has accounted for anywhere between $10 million to $13 million per meeting – at the low end, that is $830 million a year, or a nice little business in anyone else’s balance sheet.
On Sunday, the hold was just $5 million.
No figures are released breaking down how the Challenge betting lays out – ie how much is down before the first race, how much is contributed by in-play betting as the day proceeds and so on, but Sunday perhaps indicated that at least half of the usual holdings come down to in-play bets.
And that’s where Joao comes in.
On Saturday night, with what appeared an overwhelming book of rides, he was already listed at 1.1 to win the Challenge, but as soon as he won the opening race, that was it, as good as over and he was much shorter again.
He then proceeded to run at least a place in every race until the eighth and that was that.
Yes, he has a ridiculous, unheard of win strike rate of almost 27 per cent of his mounts, but with an equally amazing 60 per cent of them hitting the placings, Joao can even have an lousy day on the win front and stymie the Jockey Challenge.