Jockey Club officials rebutted criticism that yesterday's Sha Tin track was 'too hard and unfair' for one of the showpiece meetings of the year. On a day when two runners broke down hopelessly and had to be put down, several jockeys complained that the surface had a thin soft top on it with quite a deal of kickback but was rock hard underneath and not conducive to the type of racing fans expected on such important cards. Horses in or near the lead were dominant for most of the day's events, though that pattern appeared to be changing late in the day. Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, Jockey Club executive director of racing, explained that the purported layers in the course were due to the change of grass in the Sha Tin track. 'We are right now at the stage when the winter grass is dying off and the summer grass is just beginning to come through,' he said. 'This means the top of the surface can get a little bit loose. 'In terms of that, I'm afraid this is mother nature and there is nothing that we can do. But when you say there are complaints about the track, we did not receive any from the jockeys.' David Hall made a neat switch of jockeys to Robbie Fradd and turned Royal Decree into a winner in yesterday's opener. Hall brought in Fradd for the gelding when he wasn't producing the form he had shown in winning three of four starts for Hall in Australia last year, believing he was having trouble breathing. 'I think the fact I ride with a longer rein was the reason David gave me the ride,' Fradd said. 'David told me the horse had the ability and was very fit but he hasn't been breathing properly in his races. 'He said not to restrict him because he chokes down a bit if you keep him tight.' And the rest is history. It was a day of ups and downs for apprentice Jacky Tong Chi-kit, who led throughout to win on Brave Commander in the third and had his allowance reduced to seven pounds for having ridden his 15th winner. But his life must have flashed before his eyes in the last. Swiss Lad's breakdown was so complete and so sudden, he sent runners behind into total disarray and the only positive to come out of it was that more horses or jockeys were not badly hurt. Tong (Fifty Fifty) was camped right behind Swiss Lad (Glyn Schofield) at the time and Schofield said later that Fifty Fifty was the only reason he himself did not end up on the ground. 'Jacky's horse cannoned into the back of mine and that kept him upright until the field had passed,' he said. The sad end to the day took much of the attention from a fine achievement by the winner Wealthy (Eric Saint-Martin), who took his 1,400m record at Sha Tin to six wins from six starts and ended a fairly quiet time lately for trainer Dennis Yip Chor-hong. Silent Witness may have been the star of the day, but he was a wet blanket as far as betting turnover was concerned, with punters investing 'only' $69 million on the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup. While the final two events each attracted betting well in excess of $100 million, the domination of Silent Witness in the weight-for-age contest (race seven) narrowly prevented the day's turnover surpassing last year's total of $924 million. 'Our total today was $918 million and Silent Witness's race was the one event where turnover was under last year's,' said Engelbrecht-Bresges. 'It's true, Silent Witness raced this day last year too but betting on that race was stronger than this year. 'But the crowd was up, from 42,000 last year to over 50,000, and I think everyone would agree the atmosphere on course was absolutely wonderful.' Successful QEII trainer David Ferraris took time out to pay homage to rival handler Tony Cruz on the job he's done with Hong Kong's sprinting icon Silent Witness. 'To have a horse on the boil at each and every start over three seasons, and remain unbeaten after 17 runs is an amazing feat,' Ferraris said. 'Words cannot adequately describe the compliments that Tony and Felix [Coetzee] should receive. He's become a wonderful advertisement for Hong Kong racing.'