Delayed betting totally unnecessary

Murray Bell

Late scratchings at the barrier can be a curse to the Jockey Club in these turnover-sensitive times, especially if one of the last-minute withdrawals happens to be a short-priced favourite.

On big-betting races late in the programme, a dominant public fancy can carry HK$50 million or HK$60 million - five or six per cent of the day's total turnover - so you can readily understand why, if that horse is withdrawn, the stewards take all horses out of the stalls and extend betting for another five minutes.

Now consider the situation from race 10 on Saturday at Sha Tin, when outsiders Our Pegasus and High Luck were withdrawn. With each at huge prices - better than 50-1 for High Luck and way over the century for Our Pegasus - their impact on betting was minimal.

Why, we ask, would officials have ordered all horses out of the stalls and betting delayed? From our vantage point at Sha Tin, we didn't see a single individual running to the tote windows to avail themselves of the extra time.

Maybe that's because the handful of souls who backed either of these steeds had come to their senses and welcomed the prospect of a full refund rather than a certain loss.

Uncharacteristically, it gave Sha Tin the temporary look of one of the less-successful Asian racing jurisdictions.

If a lousy HK$1 million was tied up with these two bolters on a day where turnover was HK$885 million, what was the point in taking the odds to additional problems with any of the other 12 runners by releasing them all from the stalls and having to start a second-loading process a minute or two later? Surely on a risk-versus-reward analysis, the negative answer was a no-brainer.

Incidentally, if the club recouped the full HK$1 million in the added betting time, its share of that turnover would have been less than HK$45,000 - hardly worth anyone's trouble.