By Keyser Soze
IS SINGAPORE RACING IN A GOOD PLACE?
Reading between the lines and from what is being chatted about, racing in Singapore is in a very strange place. Literally. Then again, for those of us who have had to spend any length of time in the Lion City, Singapore will always be Swingabore and a very strange place where nothing is quite what it seems and SPGs- Singapore Party Girls are always ready to pounce and cling on for dear life.
Unlike its dynamic neighbour Hong Kong, Singapore racing is not powering ahead as expected. It’s not even plodding along. The embarrassing decision to call time on Singapore’s annual flagship International Race Meeting with the Kris Flyer Sprint migrating to Hong Kong under a new alias – the Chairman’s Sprint Prize- led the racing community to speculate loudly on whether it was the culmination of a massive dummy spit by the Singapore Turf Club at the annual plundering of the rich features by international horses and their connections- particularly from Hong Kong.
Whatever the reason, from a global racing perspective, Singapore has lost its cachet. With racing under intense challenge and competition from a raft of mainstream sports, and forced to pander to the demands of a very much spoilt for choice demographic, staging a prestigious international racing event provides racing with rare bragging rights during its equally rare yearly moments in the sun. It’s what racing carnivals and feature race days are all about, domestically as well.
But Racing Carnivals are not born overnight. They take many years to develop, even decades. The Melbourne Cup Carnival and Royal Ascot in their present ultra successful incarnations, Hong Kong’s December International Race meeting, the Dubai World Cup, the Japan Cup, have all been built up by the strategic and very progressive and shrewd planning by racing administrations who recognize the truth in the wisdom of the saying “the ox is slow but the earth is patient”.
With many International racing carnivals, there are cyclical shifts in the origins of the winners of the features between the locally-trained horses and the visiting internationals. We’ve seen these cycles at Ascot, in Melbourne and in Hong Kong. And the cycle can itself depend on the quality of the international visiting horses, trainers and jockeys. There’s no definitive manual categorizing the right type of horse that fits a prototype. That takes years of acquired knowledge.
The reality for Singapore is that the quality of the locally trained horses, whilst improving, is yet to reach the competitive standard with the international visitors who had been able to plunder the riches on offer- the exception being Rocket Man, the champion Australian bred, South African owned, expat South African trained sprinter. Rocket Man should be proof enough that Singapore is capable of producing world class horses as the quality of its racing improves.
But there is more convincing evidence. Ever heard of Joao Moreira? That’s right “the magic man”. Riding in Singapore helped put much of the “magic” into this extraordinary world champion jockey who has taken his “magic” to new levels in Hong Kong. The hijacking- okay, tempting, wooing, cajoling- of Moreira to Hong Kong was a mighty coup for the HKJC. And let’s not be naive enough to think that the Singapore Turf Club wouldn’t have been somewhat miffed at losing its star attraction. Then again, they hardly marketed their golden goose. Lethargy and taking good marketable talent for granted is a dangerous thing. The HKJC? They made a song and dance about signing up Joao Moreira.
The hasty retreat by the Singapore Turf Club into la la land smacks of poor judgment and short term vision. And heaven knows, racing the world over is dogged by short term vision and poor judgment by administrators and administrations. And absolutely one-dimensional and- what’s the word again?- stupid and naive human resources boffins from the age of the Brontosaurus.
As for Singapore racing, it’s also facing challenges on other fronts. The departure of one of their leading trainers- Michael Freedman- back to Australia and the rumoured retirement of Laurie Laxon will leave a large dent in the training ranks. And unlike Hong Kong, there are no queues of big name International trainers knocking on the doors of the Singapore Turf Club to be licensed there. Hardly.
On the jockey front, the situation is confusing to say the very least. Danny Beasley and Vlad Duric, who surprisingly and hurriedly left Singapore, and returned to their native Australia setting the rumour mills alight, have been re-licensed and returned to the luxury of the two days a week racing model- and all done almost surreptitiously. Very strange, indeed. We wonder aloud if and when our old mate Malcolm Thwaites may return to train in Singapore??? It wouldn’t surprise us.
RACING’S OPPORTUNITY TO “OWN” THE CLOCK
The “ceasefire” in hostilities between Racing Victoria and Racing NSW and their ally Tabcorp/Sky over race times has surprised no one. Leaving Saturday’s gaps between the two states at their present times and shortening race days on a Sunday-Friday to 30 minute gaps in Victoria and on Sydney metropolitan mid week race days makes sense. What does not make sense is Racing NSW’s decision not to extend the 30 minute gaps to all their provincial and country race meetings. But then again, do Racing NSW’s decisions surprise any one? It’s all “Yes Minister” stuff mixed with Emperor Nero and the droogs of A Clockwork Orange.
As for the importance of the “ceasefire”, this goes beyond the very obvious need to establish a sensible enough time gap between races to avoid clashes. For far too long, the tail has been wagging the dog, with race times at the behest and mercy of Tabcorp/Sky. The governing bodies had no option but to schedule their races around Sky.
Racing Victoria’s bold decision to take control of the timing of its races has thankfully brought the issue to a head. And not before time. Racing during the week plays to empty houses. Desolate grandstands, public areas and racetrack precincts tell a depressing story – of a sport or entertainment option or whatever racing dinosaurs like to describe it as, that is in rigor mortis.
It might be too late, but kudos to Racing Victoria for daring to try and streamline the race day, shave an hour off the day, and make it more palatable for the handful of brave and desperate souls that are still “clipped’ as they enter the races. God only knows why anyone would want to pay to enter some of the desolate mausoleums which racecourses are these days. And let’s not forget the cherished “50,000” participants who can get home an hour earlier in the dead of winter.
Taking control of the racing clock, puts the onus back squarely on Sky to work out a schedule with the smaller States and their “Life Partner”, Racing NSW, around the Victorian race times. But don’t expect this outbreak of a temporary peace between NSW and Victoria to signal an era of cooperation in the best interests of Australian racing. Now, that’s just a bridge too far.
GLYN SCHOFIELD LANDS IN MORE HOT WATER
The selling- and way over-pricing the sale of horses to somewhat naive Hong Kong owners has been going on since Methuselah rode at Happy Valley alongside jockeys like Geoff Lane, Glyn Pretty, Leon Fox, Peter Miers etc. Nothing has really changed since those days of the early settlers except that the stakes and the costs have got bigger and the Greed Is Good Factor has set in and one sale usually meaning the profits pie being sliced up by around 3-4 people.
This sorry tale is back in the news following an investigation into, not one, but now, two horses where Aussie jockey Glyn Schofield is reportedly involved. And what rubbed salt into the wound of those very much involved in the racing caper in Hong Kong and integrity issues was Schofield not only being licensed to ride in the city for the one meeting with an ongoing investigation going on, but actually riding one of the horses involved in this hoary tale- the Danny Shum-trained Dancing Flames, which, to fan the flames even more, won first up for Glyn Schofield’s son Chad, a terrific kid with a very bright future ahead of him.
Two days later came news of Glyn Schofield being involved in the sale of another horse to Hong Kong, this one named Lucky Year, also trained by Danny Shum, and which happened to win on Hong Kong International Jockey Championship night. The loud bragging of “I sold that horse to Hong Kong” by a certain larger-than-life Aussie racing personality visiting Hong Kong at the time when the horse crossed the finish line with Joao Moreira aboard is still ringing in our ears. So is the comeback by one wag in the crowd: “What about all the duds you’ve sold, pudding boy?”
Look, like jockeys “cannot bet”- but their wives, friends, family and dog and cat can- almost every jockey has been involved in some way in the sale of horses to trainers or assistant trainers or other go-betweens, who add on their commissions, and so keeps the game of thrones continuing.
For Glyn Schofield, he’s had the bad luck to be outed for what, if reports are true, is almost chump change, and has to face whatever music is on playback. The far bigger issue at stake here is the ongoing sales of horses to Hong Kong owners at obscenely inflated prices- and the number of individuals involved in this business.
The sale of Lucky Year will be interesting to follow as it, apparently, involves another party and polarising party in the land of Oz. This just might open up a brand new can of worms which could well see some new No No, Nanettes introduced to the Rules of Racing. If this happens, it could have a huge knockoff effect on the current horse trading climate- and ring in some much-needed reality checks and balances.
Yet another not unexpected response by sections of the Australian racing media on social media this week pissed off at being scooped on the sale to the Hong Kong based Siu family of Gai Waterhouse’s Tulloch Lodge racing business. Bad luck, fellas. Your indecent haste to contradict the story has left some of you with a fairly decent-sized omelette on your collective faces. Crystal balling, it would not surprise if a trainer of John Size’s ilk and stature takes over from Gai when she does decide to ride off into the sunset in a few years time.
Interesting to note that the Yu Long Investments Group, who are growing their racing and breeding interests and portfolio in Australia, has been very active at the major Australian yearling sales to date. Their large haul of purchases at the Inglis Classic Sale were almost exclusively the progeny of boom young NSW based stallion I Am Invincible. Perhaps they have one or two flyers in training by the hot young sire? On the same topic of yearling sales, reading the results of this week’s Magic Millions Perth sales revealed multiple purchases under the G1X/John Wall name.
Is there a glimmer of hope for Peter Moody? From what we’re hearing, the correction in evidence of one of the main veterinary experts called in by Racing Victoria along with several very salient points raised in the final submission by Moody’s Counsel, may be a turning point when both a decision on the charges is made, and/or penalties are handed down.
THE FLYING RIDING SQUADS CONTINUE…
Well, the rumour mill got things kinda half right: Yes, Hong Kong will see a new Brazilian and New Zealand jockey join the riding ranks, but not the two names bandied about. While Hong Kong says Adios to Silvestre de Sousa after Sunday’s Shatin meeting and a superb short-term stint, another Brazilian steps in- Eurico Rosa Da Silva.
The 40-year-old Canadian-based jockey, and a natural lightweight from São Paulo who has ridden in Macau and Singapore, and is said to have played a major role in persuading Joao Moreira to move to Singapore, starts a one-month stint from March 1. So much for the strong mail that another Brazilian- Manuel Nunes- was to receive the call-up.
Also forget the other mail that top female New Zealand jockey Danielle Johnson- so much mail and males- will be riding in Hong Kong- at least not just yet. Instead, this gig has gone to her partner and champion Kiwi rider Opie Bosson, who’ll start his stint from April 24 until the end of the season.
Due to start riding in Hong Kong from Sunday week: Gavin Lerena. And though we still hold out in hope that the exciting young Mauritian rider Nooresh Jugliall, described by some as “The next Joao Moreira”, will soon be riding in Hong Kong, we’ll settle for the weather gods being kinder to new Director Of Racing Tony Kelly. Hardly a meeting goes by these days without those unpredictable gods raining, especially on too many Happy Wednesday parades. Bring in the old fung shui masters. They’ll soon have that lucky old sun smiling down on punters.