HONG KONG’S HOME OFFICE POLICY LETS RACING DOWN BADLY
Hong Kong’s leading racing journalist Alan Aitken’s “On The Rails” column in the South China Morning Post last week highlighted a striking, and in these days, anti-competitive and unacceptable anomaly facing the Hong Kong Jockey Club and racing community, through the outdated and grossly conservative thinking of the Home Office Bureau.
As Aitken rightly points out, Hong Kong is in great danger of being hopelessly left behind other racing nations who have recognized the lucrative long-term financial benefits of co-mingling their wagering pools and whose racing administrations have prioritized securing arrangements among themselves.
Not so with Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Jockey Club has its hands tied firmly behind its back by the bureaucrats and boffins who appear determined to perpetuate the restrictive legislative clamps that prevent the Hong Kong and International racing communities benefiting from not just the globalization of racing, but more importantly, the ability to bet into each other’s wagering pools and enjoy the commercial benefits that flow to punters and to the racing industry in general.
In Australia for example, punters who bet on Hong Kong races bet into a local state pool which holds a fraction of what the pool would be if it were mingled into the Hong Kong pool. Obviously the dividends and odds in an Australian State pool fluctuate as wildly as the weather in Oz.
However, under the co-mingling arrangement that the Supertab conglomerate – (Victoria, South and West Australia and Tasmania) has entered into with the Singapore Turf Club, the co-mingled wagering pool in each race holds in excess of a minimum $120,000 win only, with place and exotic bets pushing up the hold in excess of $200,000, the co-mingled pools for feature races is much higher again.
For the punters, the benefits are straight into their hip pocket with healthier dividends, while Tabcorp, racing administrations and Governments all benefiting from takeouts and taxes.
Importantly, co-mingling also plugs the leakage of massive amounts of valuable wagering revenue that is finding its way into the satchels of illegal offshore bookmakers who are reaping the rewards of a financial windfall courtesy of the ineptitude of those who have their fingers on the legislative triggers.
Just in case they are still living in the century just passed, and whether they like it or not, the globalization of commerce, science, sport and just about every aspect of everyday life has not by-passed Hong Kong. It certainly has not by-passed China. And when we last checked, Hong Kong is now and forever will be a part of China.
It seems ironic that where even the most conservative elements in Beijing have quickly embraced globalization, a mere arm of the political structure that is the Home Affairs Bureau appears to stand in the door way of progress for the racing industry and the obvious and potentially lucrative financial benefits that flow from co-mingling.
We can only hope that the horse has not bolted through the negligence of the rule makers.
CLUB MERGER: A GLIMMER OF HOPE FOR NSW RACING
The failure of the special general meeting of STC members to veto the AJC/STC merger by turfing out four of the STC directors appointed to the merged Board of the new club, has all but secured the proposed merger of the two metropolitan clubs of NSW.
The real glimmer of hope for NSW racing however lies in the composition of the new Board – comprising the AJC and STC nominated representatives and the independent directors, although we do reserve our judgment on ex-David Jones CEO Mark Mc Innes.
The new Board promises much. Sydney and NSW Racing desperately needs a break from the shackles of the past – the men and women driven by selfish agendas and ambitions, seeking and power to dictate to and impose on the NSW racing community and beyond, their dangerous agendas.
The new Board is free of the tired names and faces – the usual suspects that have either been a part of the problem in NSW racing through their direct roles on the governing and administration bodies, or through the shadowy covert influence that they have exercised over the direction of NSW racing which has seen the industry head south for far too long.
The new Board does however face a massive challenge – they must find a successful formula to marginalize the influence of Racing NSW on NSW racing.
Clearly, as we have argued for a long time, Racing NSW has presided over an industry that has been polarized and divided over much of its decision making for too long. It has relied on “spin” and the lawmakers far too much and has failed dismally to resolve many of racing’s most critical challenges that it has ever faced – preferring conflict and a “race to the bottom” as a weapon of choice.
Many of the Board members of the merged club have a record of success across their chosen fields of endeavour. Whether NSW Racing is revitalized or sinks into obscurity, depends heavily on their ability to operate independently of Racing NSW and in the best interests of racing.
It is alarming that the Shadow Minister for Racing- George Souros- has raised a “red herring” about the legality of the election of some of the independent members of the merged clubs.
Souros, who is long odds to be the new Minister with the inevitable change of Government in NSW within the next few months, has a strong Hunter Valley connection with his electorate taking in the breeding region.
We can only hope, for the sake of the NSW racing industry, that some of the more prominent Hunter breeders and their collaborators have not overdosed on sour grapes at being excluded from the Board of the merged clubs and have got in the ear of Souros.
For his part Souros needs to take a deep breath, have a cold shower, wipe his balls and give the merged club an opportunity to work. He also needs to distance himself from some of the powerful constituents in his electorate.
The support for the merged club and its Board is overwhelming among the rank and file and among some of the most influential and rational members and groups in NSW racing.
It would be most unwise for Souros- even with freshly-washed new balls- to push the barrow for the vocal minority of power and influence in NSW racing who suffer from a serious lack of credibility and are remnants of a bygone era, not just in racing, but in life as well.
GET REAL, RAY THOMAS!
We were bemused to read Ray Thomas’ recent Racing Confidential column’s lead story “Global support for legislation”, reporting that the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities had “thrown its support behind Racing NSW right to impose a 1.5% turnover fee on all wagering operators”.
Now, it is common knowledge that Ray Thomas has long been the Sydney racing media’s cheer leader for Racing NSW and Peter “The Not So Great” V’landys.
The problem with quoting from a resolution of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities is that the organization is basically quite impotent when it comes to imposing any binding resolutions on member nations.
Thomas should know all too well how the Authority responded with well-founded indignation, shock and horror et al, when The Not So Great One gave Chris Munce a riding license, directly challenging the agreements in place between members of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, of which Australia and NSW are bound by.
The Not So Great One one conveniently gave the Authority the two fingered salute at the time, but it appears his cheer squad are now embracing its resolutions.
Sadly for the Authority and global racing, no one takes the organization seriously. Like the UN and most global umbrella organizations, its very real influence or authority is largely impotent. It has no power to enforce any resolutions and relies on the goodwill of members to abide by its resolutions.
And that, as we know, is about as remote as Peter “The Not So Great” V’landys sitting down with the corporate bookmakers and Betfair and negotiating a compromise to the product fee debacle.
STILL IN TRAINING
“When questioned regarding the improved performance of NEEDLES AND THREAD, Trainer T W Leung stated that, in his opinion, the horse had benefited from this race and the most recent race being spaced. He said prior to that he ran NEEDLES AND THREAD in races relatively close together and he felt that the horse had improved by having a longer break between runs. He also said that although he was satisfied with the jockey旧 handling of NEEDLES AND THREAD at its most recent start, he believed that the horse had benefited by B Doyle riding it as he had previously been successful on the horse.”
We read this from the Stipes Report and our thoughts raced to the words “horse trainer” and wondered how many of this species are a hit-or-miss affair. We re-read this report and seriously wondered if TW Leung, once a very average jockey in Hong Kong, knows what he is doing as a trainer.
Wait: We are not criticizing him, but just trying to understand the logic. If, for example, as he states, this horses goes best for Brett Doyle, well, duh, why not use Brett Doyle on it all the time? Doyle is an under-utilized jockey, plus he was once Leung’s stable jockey. The entire reasoning is, well, how you say, crap.
Needles and Pins has been with the TW Leung stable since it started its racing career in Hong Kong. Only now, the trainer realizes that the horse needs a longer break between runs?
Well, better late than never, one supposes though, there are the times when we wonder if Trainer Leung knows more about wearing flamboyant jackets than he does about the horses in his yard.
Andrew WT Leung
Just as there are singers and there are “singers”, there are horse trainers and there are “horse trainers.”
How many times have you heard the plaintive cry of, “Jeez, how on earth did he/she get a trainer’s license?”
Ever since there has been horse racing, the role of the horse trainer has been under scrutiny.
In most racing jurisdictions, it has now come to point where owners believe they can train “just as well as my trainer”. Which is extremely dangerous and why there will always be this merry-go-round of horses moving stables.
In Macau, for example, we can think of three, maybe four, bona fide trainers. In Singapore, a number of jockeys take the credit for “training” horses, especially when they win. Same in Hong Kong and same in Oz. It’s half truth and half-ensuring that they keep the rides. But there are some stables and trainers around the world who we definitely believe are totally clueless when it comes to training horses.
Do they really know when a horse is ready to win? Not really. It’s guesswork or information- and “guidance”- provided by the regular jockey or a jockey with the smarts to know a horse’s potential while it remains a non-winner and says, “Oy, mate, run that thing over a distance, slap the blinkers on it, put me on it and I’ll win on it for you.”
It is said that jockeys make the worst tipsters. Maybe. And maybe this old adage has to do with the fact that between track work and getting the horses to the races, something goes totally tits up and unaware to the trainer, or that other creature called an “Assistant Trainer”.
Particularly in some racing jurisdictions, an “Assistant Trainer” is a polite way of saying either, “The Bag Man Cometh” or, “There goes the real power behind the stable”.
All this is what sets the likes of John Size, Luca Cumani, Andre Fabre, Aiden O’Brien, Sir Michael Stoute, Bart Cummings and a handful of others coming through the ranks apart from the riff-raff.
If jockeys are asked to show “due cause” as to why they should receive riding licenses, well, perhaps some passing themselves off as “horse trainers” need to be asked some tougher questions?
After all, a jockey is only as good as a horse he rides. Put it on a piece of crap and, try as he may, he cannot win.
Just ask South African rider Greg Cheyne, currently doing the best he can with what scraps he is given and riding in Hong Kong. Put him on a half-decently horse- or a half-decently trained horse and he gets them home. The rest? Well, it’s a pointless exercise, isn’t it?
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, AARON.
The news that Aaron Kwok has been granted a permit to import his own Private Purchase Griffin next season and become a horse owner in Hong Kong is a good move by the HKJC. For those of you who wouldn’t know Aaron Kwok from a bar of Lux soap, he is a former dancer who is still known as a local Canto-Pop singing “idol” despite now being quite a bit over forty.
Tanned, sweet and flamboyant, the local celebrity and now-turned future horse owner, shows the HKJC is looking at new ways of attracting racegoers. And having someone like local celebrity Kwok is one of those ways. Hey, one small step for mankind and all that. It’s not The Final Solution, but it’s a start.
Kwok, extremely well-known to the casinos in Macau for his penchant for the blackjack and baccarat tables and marathon mahjong sessions, also happens to be the brand ambassador for Kent and Curwen, sponsors of the Centenary Sprint Cup.
Last weekend, the Cup was won by Sacred Kingdom- not exactly in spectacular fashion and proof that the champ is now getting on in years and decidedly beatable.
As for Aaron Kwok, he will bring a sense of style to the track and, hopefully, also bring some of his glamourous mates in an effort to bring “sexy back”.
Aaron Kwok models the latest Kent & Curwen line
Well, apart from Bill Nader and people dressed as strange creatures poncing about and scaring the sh*t outta everyone including the horses, “sexy” has never been to Happy Valley and Shatin, let alone making a comeback.
Honestly, what is with Asia and these daft mascots and trying to make horse racing looking like a surreal McDonald’s Hello Kitty Promotion?
A FISHERMAN’S STORY
They have now raced together twice this season in Hong Kong- the horses John Dory and the strangely named King Of Fish 11. The last time was the weekend and both ran stinkers. Nothing fishy about the runs, just stinkers.
DARREN BEADMAN: GREAT JOCKEY, FOUL TEMPER.
“D Beadman was fined a sum of $3,000 for forcefully jolting at the mouth of SKY MASCOT with his left arm when parading behind the barriers after dismounting from the horse which was fractious.”
We expect this type of behaviour from another Aussie jockey riding in Hong Kong. But, one supposes, when the money is on, even those one consider to be “gentlemen jockeys”- yes, we know, a rarity and somewhat of an oxymoron- lose it- “it” being their patience and temper.
A few weeks ago, we watched that other Aussie jock known for his abominable temper, give a horse that was giving him trouble a sly and mighty whack with his elbow.
At least, when he has a bad day at the races, word is that trainer David Hayes goes home and starts cutting up his ties.
But seeing the great Darren Beadman last weekend at Shatin standing there while his mount’s saddle was being fixed then jump aboard the horse- Sky Mascot- while its odds dropped, and, though we have no idea, say some who were close by,”Punched it in the face while holding the bit”, well, if film of that incident was ever seen by any Animal Rights groups, the jockey would be in for a pretty severe caning himself.
There are some powerful owners who belong to the HKSPCA and they have, we hear, been told of the treatment the horse received.
The horse won- easily- at 7s, and we hope, Beadman made “amends” with the animal after the race and fed him some carrots.
We also hope Chief Stipe Kim “Eliot Ness” Kelly and the rest of the Stewards have a word with him, “off-line”, despite this being a horse trained by the “Untouchable” that is John Moore.
Suddenly, “Saint” Darren- and all he has been preaching- has come down several notches in our estimation.
LET ME HANDLE IT: AND IT DOES
When trainer Caspar Fownes told us that his horse Let Me Handle It was “something special”, he wasn’t kidding. Of course, we have heard trainers tell us about horses they believe to be “something special” for years and the only thing “special” about them has been the money they have cost their owners and punters.
But when we watched Let Me Handle It spread-eagle a quality field of horses at Shatin in the last race the day on the weekend, our knees buckled, we grabbed our crotches and squealed like Michael Jackson once did.
Sure, there were some hard-luck stories- especially the David Ferraris-trained Stemos- which was knocked around by local cowboy/jockey, Terry CW Wong, until it could barely stand and with Prebble extremely lucky to stay on the horse.
What does The Wong One get for his recklessness? Two days? Two days?????
It was not a happy day for “Mr Ferrari”- and how could it have been after the “going walkies” ride Weichong Marwing managed to give his horse- Chater The Cat- one race earlier?.
David Ferraris at Shatin on Sunday
As for Let Me Handle It, superbly handled by the very underrated Brett Doyle while other jocks got off to slow starts, took their horses wide, took them inside when there was no room and with the race resembling all the mayhem of a Marx Brothers movie, Doyle just said, “Go, you go thing” and the horse did the rest.
And what we liked seeing was the jockey pointing to the horse as he eased it down and giving it all the plaudits.
Someone send a clip of that to The Bad- “Beady” Beadman.
DON’T BREAK THEIR SPIRIT, KIM KELLY!
Sure, it’s tough being a Chief Stipe and where one cannot please all of the people all of the time. Or even some of the people, some of the time.
Still, the leniency of a 2-day suspension to Terry CW Wong, like local jockey MW Leung, who absolutely slaughtered a hot pot on the weekend with a very stupid- forget “ill-judged”- it was a stupid ride- over the weekend, is a jockey many believe should be a track rider and not be allowed to ride in races as he is a menace, should not go without a cautionary tale.
This is the tale of an extremely talented apprentice in Keith KT Yeung, who gave up the game after being unmercifully picked on by the Stewards for his rides.
Apprentices cannot learn by being sent to “prison”. They return and what have they learned sitting it out in the wilderness? Nada, that’s what.
Terry CW Wong gets two days for nearly bringing down Brett Prebble and Apprentice Vincent Ho gets three days and yet another suspension for almost a “misdemeanor”.
Will these new three days on the sidelines make Ho a better jockey when he returns? No. In fact, it might make him rusty, or nervous or overly-careful and have him cop another suspension.
As in the case of Apprentice Keith ML Yeung and when Douglas Whyte offered up his time to communicate with and teach the lad, there should be more of this “mentoring” around.
If not that Get Out Of Jail card will eventually start to mean very little as nothing would have been accomplished by anyone.
THE FINAL WORD FROM RICKY GERVAIS
It’s nothing to do with horse racing, but we have to leave you with this: Ricky Gervais’ opening speech this week at the Golden Globes Awards.
There should be speeches like this at all those ticky boo and proper black tie events held at by racing clubs around the world.