A notice from the Jockey Club in recent days gave an indication of how much the horse population will increase when Conghua opens for business towards the end of next season.
In each of the previous three years, the club issued 330 (2014), 330 (2015) and 320 (2016) ownership permits in total, and that number jumped to 440 this time so the magic number of the intended population increase is about 120.
These figures every year also shine some light on the composition of that population and the gradual shift away from the previously raced Private Purchase (PP) horses.
In the 2014 list, they were 150 of the 330 permits, now they are 130 of the 440 permits to be issued, while the tickets to own unraced imports, the Private Purchase Griffins (PPGs) have risen from 54.5 per cent to more than 70 per cent.
The good news for those wanting a PP permit is that, with applications down for the third year running, your chance at the ballot has improved, although some will see that as likely to concentrate more PP permits into fewer hands – a criticism of the process often muttered anyway.
The relatively recent policy change regarding what qualifies a PP for import, a rather arbitrary granting of a 70 rating or not – and neither the rationale for those ratings nor the expected improvement in the PPs has been obvious so far – has made the fringe PPs more expensive.
The higher-rated PPs were always very expensive and accessible for a smaller group of owners who are less concerned at the cost anyway but the 70 policy, combined with the shifts in the permit structure towards PPGs will ensure that raced horses will continue to become less fashionable with all but the biggest-spending owners.
The permit applications for PPGs spiked in 2014 – as did the total applications – and have been lower since but the club will argue that 110 more PPG tickets for an extra 65 applicants this year will satisfy a portion of the backlog that sees PPG permits three-times oversubscribed.
But there is another consideration in terms of the standard of Hong Kong’s horses, and that is the challenge to trainers of building horses from the ground up. When a trainer takes on a PPG, this is a horse completely new to racing and not all trainers are capable of taking them through their grades patiently and carefully from a 52 rating to a good or high level, even if the horses have the talent.
Maybe the feeling is to just shrug – PP or PPG – when the fields line up for important races, most of the trainers at Sha Tin do not have runners of any kind, so maybe the feeling is that it’s beyond them whether the horses come as do it yourself PPG or out of a kit, with a head start of known ability and a ready-made rating.
Hong Kong out with Chautauqua to climb Everest
Any prospect the Jockey Club had of getting Chautauqua here to defend his Chairman’s Sprint Prize title had vanished before last Saturday’s blazing win at Randwick.
When Racing NSW announced all the slots were filled for the new Sydney sweepstake, The Everest in October, and one of Chautauqua’s part-owners was as a slot buyer, that was that.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club may have been the first victim of the new race luring away talent but a bit of that happens on all sides and Sydney authorities have every right to do the best by their flagship race.
Was it a possibility? The grey lost form completely when he returned from Hong Kong and missed his main targets at the end of 2016 after two moderate runs and a spell, so connections might have been reluctant to travel anyway. But The Everest nailed it down as Sha Tin in May would have left only a skinny rest for the grey before preparing for the new target – a target which cost his part-owner A$600,000.
Just what wheeling and dealing has happened, or “Old Mates Acts” called on, to ensure a full house with “selling” Everest slots would make piquant viewing, if only the world were privy to it, and there were some interesting names amongst the buyers, too.
Some queried the purchase by the Australian Turf Club – the race club staging the event – although we can only guess the club took a place to ensure a run for some magical, say, latecomer Japanese sprinter which might want a start.
The club could offer its place, then Japanese punters might be allowed to wager on the race with a 2.5 per cent cut of the handle to the club. That wouldn’t defray the part of the proposed stakemoney not covered by entry fees but it would help. If it happened.
And even the idea that entry fees will cover their part of the bargain as an ongoing thing seems fluid. The original plan was that a slot buyer had to commit for three years but, in a radio interview on Monday, one of Chautauqua’s other part-owners inferred that his co-owner had only paid for one.
We wonder too what went through the minds of those who have paid for slots offered to the rising three-year-old fillies, Houtzen and She Will Reign, when they saw Chautauqua’s remarkable win. It’s hard to remember the last time the standout sprinter in Australia in October was a three-year-old filly, if ever, and that’s without a standout older sprinter.
The ground never stops shifting under Everest.