Club battles to explain exclusion

THE Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club yesterday took the unusual step of issuing a press release to explain defending champion Romanee Conti's exclusion from the International Cup on December 12.

The exclusion has been criticised not only in these columns but also in Chinese press.

But the Club states: ''You (racing editors) should be aware of the real reasons why Romanee Conti was not selected to represent New Zealand . . . ''These are: To maintain the International Cup's Group Three status and to help it and the Bowl race gain improved Group recognition, the International Authorities concerned require that the Club takes no part in the overseas horse selection process. As a result the race title was changed from ''Invitation'' to ''International'' when Group Three status was granted to the Cup race for the first time in April this year.

Selections of overseas entries are solely determined by the internationally recognised appointed authorities in the regions concerned.

Romanee Conti was not chosen for the Cup race simply because Kiwi Golfer was rated more highly by the internationally recognised appointed authority in New Zealand.'' But the contention here remains that on form and other factors Romanee Conti should have been invited.

She has beaten six Group One winners in winning her last two races including the Arc De Triomphe winner and the Caulfield Cup winner.

She is a proven traveller and was being trained specifically to defend her crown.

And there aren't too many sporting events worth their salt where the defending champion is not allowed to take part.

Taking the release point by point. Firstly, the Club has not specifically been blamed for Romanee Conti's absence.

Nor is anyone suggesting the Club should get directly involved in picking the horses. Indeed, they must not.

But issue is taken when leading Club officials go on record as saying they are satisfied with a procedure which has failed to select the horse - Romanee Conti - who so palpably should be representing New Zealand.

Secondly, it is incontrovertible fact that the overseas entries are selected by internationally recognised appointed authorities in the regions concerned.

However, this is just a convoluted way of saying the New Zealand handicapper made the error of picking Kiwi Golfer, who is a very good horse, instead of Romanee Conti who, in the context of the Cup, is an even better one.

Thirdly, to rate Kiwi Golfer more highly than Romanee Conti is to seriously underestimate the quality of Romanee Conti's last two efforts.

For those who are not already aware, when Romanee Conti won last April's International Cup she beat Fraar, who has since won the Group One Caulfield Cup and run second in the Group One Mackinnon Stakes, one of Australia's most important weight-for-age races.

Romanee Conti also beat Urban Sea who has since won the Group One Arc De Triomphe, arguably Europe's middle-distance championship and indisputably one of the world's top races.

And she beat Cozzene's Prince who has since run second in Canada's big Group One international event.

Romanee Conti has run once since. Looking magnificent for a Group Three event over an inadequate 1,200, she came storming through to beat Lord Tridan who represented New Zealand in last season's Bowl and four Group One winners including a W.S. Cox Plate winner, the current sprinter of the year, a former sprinter of the year and the winner of the Railway Stakes which is about the biggest sprint in New Zealand.

It is not the Club's fault Romanee Conti will not be here, it is the fault of the New Zealand handicapper but the Club should not defend a selection procedure which produces the wrong runner.

That said, Kiwi Golfer ran a terrific race in the 2,000-metre W.S. Cox Plate last time out.

All the very best of luck to him in the Cup for which he has a very good chance - it's just that Romanee Conti would have had a great one.