Sectional Spotlight

    Simon Rowlands reports from Hong Kong ahead of Champions Day and offers an insight on what aspects of the sport that jurisdiction are world leaders in - he also nominates his best bets for the weekend.
  • Thursday 26 April 2018
  • Blog

I am prepared to bet that there are not many cities in the world where “going racing” is described as one of the top 10 “must dos” in the local Travel Guides. But that, and much more besides, is what is claimed of Hong Kong, where I have pitched up in advance of their Champions Day.

The racecourse of preference for my Guide is Happy Valley – where I went racing for the first time on Wednesday evening – but could just as easily be the city’s other track, Sha Tin, where the big-race action will take place on Sunday.

The “international” element of the main events has diminished since I first wrote about them a week back, with Aidan O’Brien having withdrawn all three of his representatives.

But BLUE POINT will still be flying the flag for Britain (via the UAE) and seemed to have settled in well when I saw him at Sha Tin early yesterday. At his best, he has every chance of winning, or very nearly winning.

The four-year-old has been allotted stall six for the Chairman’s Sprint Prize, while his chief rivals, Mr Stunning and Beat The Clock, got stalls three and one respectively. It may make little difference in a field of just nine, but that could have gone better.

Using the excellent draw data to be found (for free) on the HKJC site, there is an advantage to horses drawn on the inside (placed 37.5% of the time) over middle (32.7%) and wide (29.8%) for all rail settings at 6f on turf at Sha Tin adjusted to this field size.

The folks back home may know Happy Valley from the gritty crime drama set in the Calder Valley as much as from the far-flung racecourse of that name. The “Happy” in the former is deliberately ironic, given how glum much of the action is, but it most certainly applies well to the latter.

“A race meeting in Hong Kong is usually that week’s biggest public gathering”, stated Pat Cummings, Hong Kong Racing’s Head of Public Affairs, and there was a significant and well-oiled ex-pat element among the sizeable crowd there on Wednesday. 

There are many reasons why this is so, but among them are two essential aspects which the HKJC do better than anyone else and which leaders in other racing jurisdictions would do well to heed.

Punters in Hong Kong get free access to all manner of data relating to racehorse performance, including horse weights, sectional times and pars, detailed veterinary records, and morning workouts, in which (please note, some British trainers and racecourses) the horses are fully identified.

Data in Hong Kong are used to inform the other essential aspect, which is integrity of the highest standard imaginable. I sat in on a Stewards’ Enquiry in which the Chief Stipe referenced sectionals before calling in a junior rider to ask him why he had gone 1.0s faster than par in the middle section of the race.

A more senior jockey separately had it pointed out to him that one of his manoeuvres early in the same race might have had serious consequences had his rivals been in closer proximity.

Such a level of scrutiny might seem excessive but is an end in itself. If jockeys know that every transgression, or possible transgression, will be looked into forensically then they are likely to be more considered about taking risks in the first place. This process of constructive and precautionary feedback – neither jockey was disciplined – seemed to be taken in the spirit intended.

My theory is that jockeyship in Britain improved across the board in no small part due to the advent of widespread screening of the action in the late-1980s and the virtuous feedback that enabled.

A similar quantum leap could occur when – or perhaps that should be “if” – sectional timing becomes more widespread and understood. It is shameful that the authorities in Britain have done so little to advance this cause over the years.

Every horse and rider is tested prior to racing in Hong Kong, but bad stuff still goes on from time to time despite such high levels of scrutiny.

A major story broke earlier on Wednesday, with leading rider Nash Rawiller found guilty of accepting money or gifts in return for race tips and of “having an interest” in bets placed by others.

Rawiller has been banned for 15 months. One can only wonder what the HKJC stewards might make of the close commercial relationships enjoyed by many jockeys and trainers with betting operators in Britain.

I have managed to keep an eye on events back home during my trip – the early stages of the Punchestown Festival look to have been uneventful – and also notice that a sectional standout horse has been declared at Sandown on Friday.

COME ON TIER ran really fast splits in defeat at Windsor and then when winning at Nottingham as a two-year-old, and he has the potential to be there or thereabouts in the bet365 Classic Trial (due off at 15:00 BST at the Esher venue) unless the race throws up the kind of star it does about once a decade.

Meanwhile, the ex-Brit TIME WARP is the one to beat in the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup at Sha Tin on Sunday (due off at 9:40 British time, 16:40 locally) back at his best distance of 2000 metres, despite having ended up in stall seven of eight.

It is interesting to note that his only two poor efforts this campaign have been when his racing weight has dropped below 1239 lb, and that his best effort of all – a course-and-distance win in the Hong Kong Gold Cup in February – came when he crushed the scales at 1251 lb.

Time Warp’s racing weight for this event will be posted on the HKJC website on Friday, and I will be hoping it’s a hefty one.

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