On The Rails
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The impossible just got harder in racing’s speed series; that’s why nobody cares

Global Sprint Challenge limps on with even more difficult criteria after Singaporean withdrawal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2016, 11:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2016, 11:36pm

Perhaps the reaction from many racing fans to Tuesday’s announcement that the Chairman’s Sprint Prize will join the Global Sprint Challenge (GSC) was less along the lines of, “Wow, that’s interesting”, and more like, “Hey, is that thing still going?”

Notwithstanding that Aerovelocity would have been shooting for the US$1 million bonus had he made it to the Sprint on international day at Sha Tin, the GSC limps along anonymously these days like it doesn’t exist and, for any worthwhile purpose, it doesn’t.

The Global Sprint Challenge limps along anonymously these days like it doesn’t exist and, for any worthwhile purpose, it doesn’t

With Singapore gone, the Chairman’s Sprint goes into the 10-race series, now staged over one less jurisdiction, which makes the bonus requirement of wins in three different countries even more difficult than it already was – and nobody has managed to carry it off yet.

A bonus that nobody wins is a dreadful promotional tool but not in the same galaxy of awful as a “challenge series” that nobody wins. Participation is its own reward.

Come on, you remember the big ceremony to honour the 2015 winner, right? Or 2014? No? It’s a star-studded honour roll. Just can’t quite think of who won the series ... oh, that’s right – nobody.

Look at the GSC website and you’ll find lists of the races, an explanation of the bonus and this delicious come-on: “A win in a leg of the GSC puts the names of the winning horse, trainer and jockey up in lights and provides the ultimate international recognition of the winning nation’s sprinting stock.”

Oh, GSC, you and your siren song. Somebody stop me!

There is no list of past winners on the site because that could give the game away.

Any international series with horses is pushing excrement up an incline, as admirable as the intent might be. In the early days, though, at least there were point scores and a trophy (OK, only awarded if certain criteria and a points threshold was achieved. Phew).

In 2007, Australia’s Miss Andretti showed up how silly it all was when she competed in four of the, then, six legs, won two, was top points scorer and still didn’t get even a ribbon. Sure, her owners got the prize money won along the way and all their “names in lights” but that didn’t require the existence of a GSC.

Now the Global Sprint Challenge has 10 races, a difficult bonus and nothing else, least of all any incentive to chase it

The scoring points have been lost along the trail somewhere since, along with the concept of even having a series winner or a trophy, and now the GSC has 10 races, a difficult bonus and nothing else, least of all any incentive to chase it.

The World Championship series came and went unsatisfactorily, as did the Asian Mile Challenge and only the GSC remains. What the latter two always had in common was an unwillingness to recognise a series winner, except in quite exceptional circumstances. They were designed like an Olympics where the only ones who get medals have to win five events in three different disciplines and break world records in them all.

It was only ever done half-right in the first place but, 10 years on, a series which was created – to incentivise frequent meetings between the top equine sprinters, a la Formula One, has given up and should probably be put out to pasture or redesigned.

Pardon us if we don’t go gaga about the latest “developments”

Commingling numbers offer Jockey Club New Year cheer

Just when things were looking glum on the turnover front, along came New Year’s Day with a surprise record hold on Sha Tin and that includes the commingling numbers as well. Nobody is sure how all that happened but it did and it was a welcome change just when you could almost feel the Jockey Club starting to look for ways to run more “product”.

The result coincides with the arrival on Monday of the club’s new commingling development director, George Irvine, formerly with Satellites Information Services in Britain, the service telecasting races into the bookies’ shops.

With that sort of background making him an expert in the field, Irvine’s brief will be to find ways to grow the commingling side of the business which contributed HK$3 billion to the club’s total turnover last season.

The commingling numbers on Friday aren’t spectacular, of course, in terms of the home pools here but they do have to be judged differently.

Nobody is sure how all that happened but it did and it was a welcome change just when you could almost feel the Jockey Club starting to look for ways to run more ‘product’

The new record was HK$57.5 million, up 23 per cent on the same day last year, and, like everything about commingling, it’s early days and growing. And that would be a pretty decent-sized business multiplied by the 83 meetings each season.

The record looks better when you consider that one outlet, the TVG racing channel in the US, has not offered its customers Hong Kong racing since international week. TVG has been in the process of changing the tote company with which it deals, but should be fully back online for commingling as of tonight’s meeting.

The big commingling hold on Friday came through Singapore at HK$22.9 million, and the US coming in second at HK$11.9 million ahead of Europe (HK$8.7 million), Australia and New Zealand (HK$8.5 million) and Macau (HK$5.5 million).

As we noted, in the context of Hong Kong’s own turnover numbers, not startling but the US holdings look better through the prism of their own racing.

The commingling on Hong Kong was about 20 per cent of the money bet by Americans on the meeting at Aqueduct, a major New York track racing on New Year’s Day, and not at breakfast time either.

That has to be respected as a decent result with capacity to grow, especially as more exotic bets – which US punters love – are offered there.