The Jockey Club needs to enter the 21st century and follow other racing jurisdictions by broadcasting protest footage for the fans
When four of the biggest names attached to Hong Kong racing are in a stewards’ room fiercely debating the result of a race with big money and big implications on the line, you can’t help but be interested. The Jockey Club had a golden opportunity on Sunday to showcase some of the greatest racing minds on the planet when Douglas Whyte and Zac Purton (Party Genius) lodged an objection against John Size and Joao Moreira (Leading Fortune) in what had all the makings of a ding-dong stoush in the stewards’ room.
The drama built as the inquiry continued – there was a real sense of theatre with endless storylines attached to the situation – but unfortunately punters were none the wiser. While rival racing jurisdictions allow stewards’ inquiries to be broadcasted live with audio, the Jockey Club operates behind closed doors, arguing it instead provides transparency through in-depth stewards’ reports and by allowing questioning of chief steward Kim Kelly after each race meeting.
It’s true, the reports are in-depth and Kelly is open to questioning each meeting, but none of that captivates an audience quite like two star jockeys arguing their case in the room.
It’s 2020, punters should be able to hear the arguments of Whyte, Purton, Moreira and Size themselves, not have to sift through 290 words of jargon in a report released late at night.
Racing finds itself at the crossroads as a sport as younger generations gravitate to other interests so it needs to innovate. While broadcasting three stewards’ inquiries a season won’t save it, it can open the door to further things down the track. While the Jockey Club has considered opening up the inquires, it is unlikely to happen anytime soon with officials confirming it is not currently on the agenda. “Different jurisdictions have a different view of it, I think here there is already a sufficient level of reporting,” executive director of racing Andrew Harding said.
“Some people say it is another window into the sport and it could be of interest to people but I think the level of transparency we give here in terms of the detail in the stewards’ reports and the opportunity to question the chief steward each day, that comfortably satisfies the public reporting and transparency around it. “I wouldn’t envisage that we would be doing that.”
A significant hurdle is that the inquiries are carried out in English but most of the Jockey Club audience speaks Cantonese or Mandarin. A challenge? Sure, but not insurmountable. The Jockey Club also needs to consider its commingling audience from around the world who tipped in a whopping HK$18.8 billion in turnover last season – they deserve a world-class product. In these challenging times where Hong Kong racing is one of the few sports still running, commingling alone was up 35 per cent on Sunday. It is easy to continue to come up with old excuses to keep doing what has worked in the past, but the Jockey Club need to look to the future when it comes to showcasing the most captivating elements of their product and increasing transparency.
There has never been a better time to be a Hong Kong-based jockey. The men in the saddle have a dangerous job but they’re enjoying the fruits of their labour at the moment. Hong Kong racing has record prize money with limited competition and remains one of the few jurisdictions still competing. Frenchman Antoine Hamelin pocketed more than HK$130,000 for his first day on the job which netted two winners, a far cry from the dwindling prize money in Europe.
As the man of the moment, he now takes a full book of nine rides to Happy Valley on Wednesday night. With no internationals able to come for Champions Day in a fortnight’s time, Hong Kong-based riders will carve up the HK$63 million in prize money across the three Group One races.
On top of all of that, the Jockey Club has announced the suspension for careless riding charges will be reduced from two meetings to one in an attempt to bolster their wafer-thin riding roster. While they would never admit it, the stewards are hamstrung about punishing indiscretions in the current situation. The Jockey Club can’t just fly in a rider or two if injuries or suspensions start to mount. It means every 50-50 decision will go in the jockey’s favour. A couple clearly got the benefit of the doubt on Sunday.