Disqualification furore points to rule change need

THE Diamond Coast incident has illustrated a pressing need for racing management to propose an amendment to the rules so that punters are never again the innocent victims of a jockey weighing-in light. Quite simply, the disqualification of Diamond Coast unwittingly broke the first and most fundamental of all gambling tenets - if you cannot win, you cannot lose.

As the Rules of Racing currently stand, punters who backed Diamond Coast could never win, given that jockey Damien Oliver weighed-in 1.2 pounds light after finishing first past the post in the seventh event at Sha Tin on Saturday night.

If Diamond Coast lost, so did his backers. But when he won, they also lost because he weighed-in light and was duly disqualified. So, with no provision for a refund built into the rules, punters could only lose and never win. Now, if malpractice is discovered that is quite a different thing. The horse should be disqualified and whoever is responsible for the wrongdoing has to be brought to book.

No money can be refunded to the betting public as the clear inference would be that a jockey weighed-in light as part of betting plot. But that wasn't the case whatsoever last Saturday night. The race-meeting stewards were satisfied that there was no dishonest intent on the part of Oliver. Similarly, trainer Neville Begg, himself a complete professional, had nothing to do with the horse weighing-in light. Given the obvious and total absence of dishonest intent, the race-meeting stewards fined no-one.

No-one, that is, except the betting public who were punished to the tune of some $5.5 million in successful win and place bets on this 5.9-1 chance disappearing down the plughole through no fault of the punters. Throw in the successful quinella and tierce wagers centred on Diamond Coast and the figure is probably nearer $10 million. And all this with no chance of winning.

Clearly this points to an urgent need for a revision of the rules. Specifically the relevant ruling should empower the race-meeting stewards to refund punters' stake money when a horse weighs-in light, in circumstances similar to Diamond Coast - i.e. where there is no dishonest intent. You see, Hong Kong is a unique place when it comes to punting on the horses.

Punting is the lifeblood of so much which goes on here that the punters deserve to be protected to the nth degree. Nor is this out of a sense of pure altruism. Rather it is to protect the integrity of a racing system on which so much outside racing depends. Some may argue that racing management were not at fault but others may claim these implications should have been foreseen when the rules were originally framed.

Whatever, this was very much a test-case situation. One which had not arisen before and in these situations it takes great foresight to envisage the repercussions until they have actually happened. But now they have, they should be learned from and acted upon. Racing management may also want to seek specialist advice from sports physiologists as to whether a one-pound allowance provides enough margin for error for a jockey, especially during these enervating last few meetings.

Specialist advice sought from local doctors with a sporting bent suggests that 1.2 pounds of urine and sweat in volume terms comes to about 500 cc or half a litre. Given that the allowance has been broken once, it doesn't take Einstein to work out that it could be broken again and that, in distance events, it may not be sufficient at this time of year. The doctors contacted confirmed this viewpoint, that it is perfectly possible for a jockey to lose more than a pound through urine and sweat.