Bill Shankly took four-and-a-half years to take Liverpool out of the old Division Two and mould them into a great side; Alex Ferguson about the same time with Manchester United. Indeed, at one point during his difficult early years William Hill's had him 7-4 on to be sacked. Out here the improvements to the core racing product are slowly but most determinedly being made under the chairmanship of Alan Li, with the diligence and expertise of director of racing Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the disciplinary acumen of chief stipendiary steward John Schreck, the race planning and handicapping expertise of senior handicapper Ciaran Kennelly and all presided over by chief executive Lawrence Wong. The Security Department, under new supremo Tim McNally, seems to have a much better grasp of things, too. Last week saw the announcement of a $67 million boost to prize money for the Jockey Club's internationally accredited Group One races, for Class One and Two affairs and for griffin events. The average increase in purses was 14 per cent for next season compared to this, but the real gainers were very much at the top end. This latest development is equivalent to another key player being purchased. The racing team is now starting to take on a formidable shape. The incentive is well and truly there for owners to go out, think big and buy big and come back with thoroughbreds of the highest quality as the club's vision of Hong Kong as a world centre of racing excellence is starting to look a realistic and most astute aim. The racing surfaces themselves, notwithstanding Saturday's sprinkling of grass cuttings on the Sha Tin track, are immeasurably better than in previous campaigns. The key areas already mentioned - director of racing, chief stipe, senior handicapper and head of security - are filled by guys who are as good as it gets in their field. That could never be said before, not in a million years, although it has been hard to find anyone who agreed with the suspension imposed on Stephen Baster for his riding of Outstanding Lad, outside of the stipes panel in particular and Jockey Club officials in general. However, in the grand scheme of things the stipendiary stewarding, in all its functions, has improved out of all recognition since Schreck took the helm. Quite why he wasn't here 10 years ago only ex-director of racing Philip Johnston can know. Schreck's fellow Australian, the rather self-effacing but definitely no-nonsense Jamie Steer, is also worth a special word of praise as he, too, has brought a new-found professionalism to the job and has worked hard with the apprentices. So there has to be considerable optimism for the future. The core racing product is what counts. It is going to bring the crowds back and maintain a buoyant turnover. The jockeys more than do their part, too, but here the club probably need to radically revise upwards what they are prepared to guarantee each Club Jockey per month if they really want to get the absolute world superstars with whom they are negotiating - and it's an open secret that means Kieren Fallon, Frankie Dettori and Olivier Peslier. For instance, they can get $1 million a month in Japan. In Singapore, the going rate is about $25,000 per week, plus car plus luxury flat and that's before any riding percentages. Here they are guaranteed something in the region of $40,000, plus a flat and car. If their percentages exceed that they get nothing other than their share of prize money. It simply isn't enough. Wage structures a la Roy Keane and Manchester United must be revised if the best players, the best jockeys that is, are to be attracted here and then retained. More than anything the public want to see the best riders. But it must also be said that the likes of champion elect Robbie Fradd, Douglas Whyte, Felix Coetzee, Weichong Mawing, Eric Legrix, Eric Saint-Martin, Brett Doyle, Corey Brown, Wendyll Woods and Alan Munro (post suspension mode) and the up-and-coming apprentices Philip and Howard Cheng and Roger Yu have done the sport proud this season, while lightweight Eddie Lai appears to have improved by leaps and bounds. On the training front, there remains a huge amount of talent, both expatriate and local. But special praise must go to Tony Cruz who has all but clinched his first title, to Ivan Allan for his pioneering exploits with the likes of Fairy King Prawn, and to Brian Kan Ping-chee for his consummate handling of Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup hero Industrialist. In the local ranks, the doyens of the game, Kan and Wong Tang-ping, have once again shown they are as good as anyone, while the consummate younger brigade of Andy Leung Ting-wah, Ricky Yiu Poo-fie and Peter Ho have done a fine job. But it would be wrong to take too Panglossian a view, all is not yet for the best in the best of all possible worlds with three key signings still needing to be made. A constant debate has raged about the quality of the Veterinary Department with the latest debacle being Kan's Grand Prize testing positive to Dexamephasone, a prohibited anti-inflammatory, after winning at Happy Valley a fortnight ago. Kan insists he was advised by the vets that he could use the cream containing Dexamephasone even on the day of the race itself. If this is true, and there is no reason to disbelieve him, it would seem both illogical and grossly unfair to hold him rather than the vets responsible. This argument is strengthened by the fact that Dexamethasone was one of the first corticosteroids produced, is one of the most well known and was clearly shown as a constituent ingredient on the bottle of cream given to Kan. So quite how Kan could be held responsible, if it indeed comes to an inquiry, is hard to justify on grounds of logic or equity. So, the consensus seems to be that the Veterinary Department needs strengthening, while it has been a constant argument in this column, and elsewhere, over the past few weeks that so do the Information, Marketing and Audio-Visual Departments. Information needs a couple of proper racing journalists so their press releases are in keeping with the vision of excellence. At the moment, someone is asked to do a job they are not equipped for and producing releases which wouldn't be fit for a school magazine. Marketing desperately needs someone who understands the core racing product and what exactly motivates fans to bet. Here, all they have to do is read Phil Bull's biography, which is in their own library. The Audio-Visual Department needs a producer or director who also understands the game and stops using camera angles, split screens and replays no one wants. But compared to two years ago, giant strides have been made, new life has been breathed into the racing product as underlined by Fairy King Prawn's Japanese triumph. Perhaps even more importantly, there are now those within the Club who are only too willing to admit to areas of weakness and do their utmost to improve things. It has been a season of progress and future hope. The Manchester United of racing has yet to be developed here but all the signs point to that vision of a world centre of excellence coming ever closer over the next two years. Lastly, no review would be complete without a special word for seven-time champion jockey Basil Marcus, who leaves after Sunday's final meeting in his bid to conquer British racing. Marcus has been a champion of champions. He has never shirked a challenge, won untold more races he should have lost rather than vice-versa and basically set the standards for others. 'Giant strides have been made, new life breathed into the racing product'