Well I am sat here in the (pretty crowded) press room at Sha Tin racecourse in Hong Kong a full hour plus ahead of the first race and already the public are swarming in looking forward to their day at the races – and at the betting windows! The first thing to point out is that both Sha Tin and Happy Valley are sell outs EVERY time they race, and although I am sure the local racegoers are looking forward to such high class action and the presence of raiders from around the racing World, I doubt it makes a jot of difference to the betting pools. First things first and we are in a tote monopoly here, so we need to take that in to account when looking at the sums punted race on race, with every penny in one massive pot (all be that divided in to win, place, forecasts, trifectas and so on), so I guess we would be talking the equivalent of adding all our bookmakers and exchanges together for a comparison, though that doesn’t make the figures any less inspiring. A ten race card would frighten most Brit punters (me included), but that is seen as a good thing here (they love a day at the races and really make the most of it), though it will be interesting to see if they bet more on the better races, less, or very little difference?
Remembering you get about ten Hong Kong dollars to the pound (so move the decimal point one place to the left), I was still pretty much amazed to see a total pool of HK$74,000,000 (74 million dollars or 7.4 million pounds) for race one which was only a lowly handicap but what can you say other than good luck to them, though as the 2.6 favourite won, I was surprised by the lack of emotion (or even shouting) from the massive crowd. Race two may have seen a few hoping to double up on the short odds Joao Moreira ridden Sergeant Titanium as the pool broke the HK$100 million mark at the off, though if they did they left it all behind as Zac Purton rode Happilababy to a comfortable victory. Well supported down to 8/1 or so as the stalls opened, he greened up on the boards (which apparently means their price has shrunk by 20% or more by the off), so didn’t exactly run unbacked, though again the silence was deafening as he crossed the line in front.
Moving on to the first of the big races and once again the fans of Ryan Moore were collecting as he rode a superb race on Highland Reel for Aidan O’Brien. After finding himself a reluctant leader he saw his luck change as Harbour Master swooped round the field to take them along with Flintshire cruising in behind and hitting the front after the final turn only to find Ryan had more up his sleeve than any of us thought as he not only got back up but was going away at the line. Another “green” horse, he was backed from 5/1 to 3/1 or so but again the crowd were pretty quiet – and I am beginning to think it’s just their way and nothing personal
Moving on to the sprint and Sole Power was an also ran as Peniaphobia landed the bets for the thousands of Moreira fans at odds of 4.4 making pretty much all the running from favourite Gold-Fun and we can but hope the powers that be try their hardest to persuade one or both to turn up at Royal Ascot next June, so we can see how they get on against our very best, whoever they may be since recent retirements that is.
Able Friend came next and is a prime example of mass hysteria! Despite having to pass the vet at midday after signs of lameness in the morning he is still the favourite horse in Hong Kong and with “pop star” jockey Moreira in the saddle, he was soon trading odds on, which was frankly madness in the circumstances, but did at least open up a bit more each way value elsewhere. In the end we couldn’t work out who to back between us and just let our bets ride, and good job too as Maurice (the subject of every negative imaginable when watching him work) took the race for Ryan Moore and Japan, making it three Group Ones in a row.
One to go and as I began to flag after a long old week all I could do was hope for an easy win for Free Eagle in his last race before a new career at stud. The best horse in the contest on official ratings, there was no guarantee that meant a thing by now and so it proved as he somehow contrived to finish stone cold last. Japanese raider A Shin Hikari made virtually all the running under veteran star Yutaka Take and at odds of 38/1. He ran it in a blisteringly fast time to be fair and although Free Eagle sat behind him in third looking poised to pounce, it was all too much for him up the home straight and he was heavily eased but it still wasn’t what was expected and I shall be sulking for a week.
And so, we need to draw stumps and go for a conclusion which is not as easy as it may sound. As a punter it was a disaster, but as a spectacle and a day out it was as amazing as you can imagine. The best horses from around the World may not always be British, or even European, and that is a lesson learned the hard way as are most, but the racing was of the highest class as were the surroundings, and if I am lucky enough to be invited back we will be talking about local or Japanese horses next year, unless we send the A Team of course, and on today’s evidence even that may not be good enough.
Sean Trivass was a guest of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and would like to thank them for their invaluable assistance all week.