PROTECTING the interests of punters is mandatory for any racing authority but the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club failed in this paramount duty at Happy Valley last Wednesday night. The six-event programme was on equitrack and the official going was 'good to firm' which, to any regular follower of Hong Kong racing, translates into fast times on the predicted firm ground. Not so. The equitrack surface had been deepened from two inches to three and a half inches and trainers had been so informed. Within the closer confines of the local racing circle, slower times were being predicted because of the different treatment to the Valley synthetic surface. This is exactly what happened. Throughout the evening the race times recorded made a mockery of the official going and served to totally confuse punters. In a racing community obsessed with times, the official description of the surface and the fact that the public were unaware that it had been substantially altered from previous weeks, struck a savage double blow. Ironically, the surface was, in the opinion of virtually everyone involved on the official and licensed side of the sport, quite the best it has been this season. We had finally a surface which seemed to give most horses a chance - rather than the lightning fast variety of previous meetings which suited only front-runners. Equitrack and the Sha Tin course have been a learning process for new Clerk of the Course, John Ridley, but he got the dirt just right last week. Sadly, for the vast majority of dedicated punters, they were not to know that the good work put in had so materially altered the ground. It is pointless going through a litany of race times to back up the point made here so let us leave it with just one example. At the equitrack meeting before last Wednesday, front-running Bogie's Pride ran a Class Four 1,600 metres in 1:34.9 which is more than three seconds inside standard time. Last Wednesday, topweight Bambi won the final event by a gutsy three-quarters of a length in a time for the 1,600 metres of 1:39.5. That time, almost four seconds outside that recorded three weeks earlier by Bogie's Pride, was due entirely to the altered surface of which the public knew nothing. It placed Bambi some 25 lengths behind Bogie's Pride - or half the length of the Valley straight. Results like that make the form book as worthless as a 10-year-old map of Europe. The criticism here is most definitely not about the state of the equitrack . . . it is the failure to inform the public or, in the case of the official going, unintentionally mislead them. To the most backward student of times, it is clearly ridiculous to suggest - given the accepted condition of the Happy Valley equitrack - that times up to a second and a half outside standard time can be recorded on a good to firm surface. IT is difficult to get all Hong Kong trainers to agree on anything but there has been one general chorus of dissent recently and that concerns the entry system for the International Races. Yesterday senior handicapper Martyn Stewart sent a list of around 20 horses to senior vet Keith Watkins and he will announce the Hong Kong runners for the December 11 races today. Anxious owners will await the official nod and then happily speculate on the prospect of glory on the big day. The more realistic among them will simply be pleased at the thought of being part of the most important occasion on the local calendar. One thing is certain - no owner will decline the invitation to take part. That leads to the one glaringly obvious question: why bother to take entries at all from local trainers? There is no money involved and they are currently asked to put in names before the season even starts - which leads to embarrassing situations like the absence of Bumper Star who will be sunning himself at Beas River while the action takes place at Sha Tin. There is no logical reason to ask for entries when the Senior Handicapper decides what horses from Hong Kong will run. As reserves will also be nominated, in the event of an owner or trainer declining an invitation then the breach will quickly be filled. And a refusal to take part is about as likely as a snowstorm at Sha Tin.