It’s getting on for 13 years since our last undisguised plug for a book in this space so the release of Geoffrey Hutson’s Watching More Racehorses seems the right occasion to do it again, since it was his first volume, Watching Racehorses which prompted the previous one.
We’re not normally given to such things but, while there are publications galore in horse racing dealing with all manner of ways to pick, rate or guess selections for races using past form, jockeys, trainers, weights, times, lucky numbers and whatever else you can think of, there is precious little literature on what to look for when horses are in the paddock pre-race.
Hutson spent more than two decades as a university research fellow in animal behaviour, at the University of Melbourne, with his time spent more on animals of the barnyard than the parade yard kind until he decided to combine a hobby passion for racing with his trained scientific skills.
Significant research ensued over some years regarding the behavioural traits of thousands of horses before their races and when the dust cleared, his angle was down more to sorting out the ones who were going to run below expectations rather than sorting out the winner.
In short, the pre-race parade is the answer to that old conundrum usually posed to horseplayers by smug non-horseplayers: so what if the horse you like to win the race is having an off day? By extension, what’s left when the “bad day” horses are tossed out will contain the winner and Hutson’s work deals with which horses betray the likelihood of their having a bad day before they step on to the track. As we said earlier, this is not the kind of stuff that gets laid out for the ordinary punter so much.
Race day crowds – and therefore the people most eligible to use the ideas in the book – may be dropping away fast in Australia and elsewhere but are still pretty healthy here and holding, and the pre-race parade for a Class Five still commands a live viewing audience in Hong Kong racing that would be the envy of Group One days in some jurisdictions.
You only have to look at the crowds that will dangle off the back of multiple floors of the grandstand at Sha Tin today to see how much store punters put in assessing how a horse looks to be mentally and physically ready to do the job.
Explanations of particular behavioural disadvantages when a horse parades are laid out alongside specific explanations of different types of equipment on horses and what they mean to its chances, all views updated since Hutson’s first volume.
Recently in this column, we brought up the case of Doyeni, a favourite who disappointed at Sha Tin, whose change of shoeing for the race indicated to parade yard smarties that he might not be showing up in tip-top form. In his latest book, Hutson includes a new chapter on looking at the shoes on racehorses and what it all means. That is definitely an edge for those who take the trouble to look as shoeing changes are not yet an official gear change in Hong Kong racing as they are in some other jurisdictions.
At the very least, a read of Watching More Racehorses may equip you to not just hum along to the very popular pre-race assessments of “Jenny From the Paddock” Chapman but actually know some of the lyrics and nod your head knowingly at her comments.
Perhaps not the perfect Valentine’s Day present guys but maybe buy it for yourself. The book is only available to readers in Hong Kong via Hutson’s website www.watchingracehorses.com.au as there is no distributor through bookshops.
Moving in on Macau? No, not now, not ever
One of the rumours doing the rounds lately has been an older one recycled, that the Jockey Club is looking to acquire and run Macau racing.
This time the scuttlebutt seems to have been generated by a few well-publicised issues in racing across the Pearl River Delta in recent times, with dissatisfied members and eyebrows raised about the bottom line at Macau Jockey Club, and the possibility that the situation could become available in a relatively short time when the Macau licence needs to be renewed.
And, we are sure we’ve written it here before, there are some terrific reasons why the Hong Kong Jockey Club would want to acquire Macau and use it as a second tier of its own racing.
Sound horses could be moved there to a lesser grade of competition when they have become uncompetitive here, without necessarily having to retire, and it would be an ideal ground for training and testing a whole range of personnel from mafoos up.
Instead of apprentice jockeys coming back from training overseas, still raw and inexperienced and dropped into the crucible here against some of the very best, Macau could be a middle step for them, competing with others of the same ilk.
Trainers, too, could earn their stripes in Macau. Along those lines, it could almost work as a “second division” with promotion and relegation between Hong Kong and Macau operating for jockeys and trainers.
And, with the trusted Hong Kong Jockey Club brand on it, best of all, Macau would operate as a going concern.
All good reasons, all sense and reason and all thrown straight back at us when we put the rumour to Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges during a quiet moment at the Asian Racing Conference in Mumbai. His response? Macau. No, not now, not ever.
Engelbrecht-Bresges said that there are myriad difficulties in doing business in Macau and the club already has enough issues to work through with conducting business in mainland China with the extensive Conghua project.
And, furthermore, that the Jockey Club sees the potential for Conghua as immeasurably greater than that of Taipa and therefore worth the considerable effort, trouble and expense.