Between the lukewarm postseason rehandicapping and the licensing of fresh jockeys for the next season, two of the summer points of interest in Hong Kong racing have now become a non-event.
It may have happened, and it’s one thing we don’t keep on record, but we really don’t recall a June licensing committee that did not announce a fresh expatriate jockey for the start of the new term, as happened last Friday.
By fresh, we might mean someone who rode here previously and returns anew, or someone who has never been here, but, either way, it didn’t happen. And the list for September was almost the same as July.
And we can only guess that the reason that it didn’t happen was that Australian jockey Blake Shinn’s stupid indiscretions over betting in races, for which he was punished almost six years ago, came back to haunt him.
That punishment already took a good chunk of time out of the finite limits of Shinn’s career as a professional sportsman.
The impression we had from Shinn when he was here in April for the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup was that he was keen to ride here.
The general aura of club officials seemed to be that enough time had passed without incident since his return to riding in February 2012 that the matter had been consigned to history as a foolish mistake.
It seems that this view fell at the final hurdle and we can only hope that it was a matter of time rather than an absolute rejection.
Do we have an axe to grind for Shinn? Yes. Insofar as, however the club might flatter itself, it is difficult to attract new world-class jockeys to Hong Kong on a longer term basis given the steely dominance of just a few.
Shinn is one who wants to take that challenge on and his presence would only strengthen the roster.
All we would say to the licensing committee is this: inherent in any just system of rules – and that’s what this is about, the likelihood or otherwise that Shinn might offend again and embarrass Hong Kong – must be concepts of mercy and rehabilitation, not only crime and punishment.
Otherwise, the figure of Lady Justice would carry just a sword, not a balance as well.
Fresh permit holders are left with plenty of questions but no answers
The drawing of the latest permit list last week was the cause for the usual disgruntled mutterings about transparency and fairness from those who felt ill-used by it and the usual reasons for being cheerful for those who had a win.
Some who land the right to purchase a raced or unraced horse to run in Hong Kong call it merely a permit, which is what it is, others see it as a golden ticket – make of that what you will.
But prosaic or fantastic, all of those with an owner’s permit in their hot little hands right now have only one question – where do I buy my horse?
Or maybe two questions – where do I buy my horse? When does it arrive?
Or three, no, three questions is a better number and let’s pull up stumps there before litigation ensues from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
All of those who won an owner’s permit last week have three questions – Where do I buy my horse? When does it arrive? When does it run?
And that, perhaps, encapsulates the impatience with which an owner approaches filling a permit. The permit is value for a year.
Wiser heads might throw the permit in a drawer for a while and think on at least the first of those questions, but wise heads are more difficult to find than the “World Hide And Seek Champion”.
The reality is that all those with a fresh permit – and there is no distinction between the attitudes attached to a ticket for a Private Purchase (PP) or Private Purchase Griffin (PPG) – want to get the horse now. Right now.
And the reality of that shopping trip is that the timing is all wrong, right now.
The dispensing of permits seems to historically have been at this moment, around or just before Royal Ascot, forever and persists only because it has been. There is no good reason for it and a number of reasons why it should change.
Since PPGs are overwhelmingly bought in the southern hemisphere, now is a time in New Zealand of hock-deep heavy tracks, and in Australia of wet tracks and all-weather racing.
These conditions are an opportunity for horses to win trials, but disguise hidden soundness issues that might come against the horse later.
As for PPs, well the same applies in the southern hemisphere and it was the questionable maiden wins in deep winter mud that brought us to the much disliked 70-rating threshold rule as a safeguard against owners being sold a pup.
North of the equator, where it’s mostly about PPs, the flat season has barely begun, owners there have stars in their eyes and are most unlikely to be releasing a young horse of any promise with all the black type racing still ahead – at least not without making somebody grandly overpay for the horse.
The 70 rating was designed as a means to improve the quality of the Hong Kong horse population – apparently beyond what is already a high standard, so we question motive in any case – but perhaps a change to the timing of permits would perform the same kind of task without the angst that seems to come with the 70-plus.
If permits were drawn in September, the timing would make more sense. Horses in the northern hemisphere would have had several more months to race and be exposed as either worthy expensive buys with big targets or, having fallen short of the dream, as decent bread and butter purchases at a reasonable price who will pay their way here.
In the south, the PPGs would be trialling on firmer ground – more meaningful for their prospects in Hong Kong – while even the PPs there would be of a better standard as it usually takes a decent horse just to win a maiden at a time of year when horses are gearing up for imminent carnivals.
Owners would still impatiently grab their “golden ticket” and charge out into the marketplace – there will be no changing that – but perhaps the marketplace later in the year might itself be more in line with the aspirations and intentions of the Jockey Club and its owners.
The club moved its International Sale on the calendar in a desire to see its graduates sold at a time which would give them a better chance to succeed, and moving the ballot for owners’ permits for the same reason would seem to be in step with that thinking.