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No fireworks as IJC night misses the mark

With the strongest line-up of jockeys in years, the event over-promised and underdelivered

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They need to pick the fields better – stop letting no-hopers into the line-ups – @claud_ballz

There were no fireworks at Wednesday night’s International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley and an event that has so often proven the perfect launch pad into international week was underwhelming and could instead have long-lasting ramifications.

With the strongest line-up of jockeys assembled in years the IJC had all the makings of an event for the ages, but it missed the mark with racegoers and the stars of the show – some of whom have privately suggested they won’t participate again if it stays in its current format.

Recent social and political unrest in Hong Kong caused the Jockey Club to opt against the use of fireworks, looking for a “low key event” – a move which unfortunately set the tone for the night.

One jockey wondered when returning from the opening ceremony whether the budget had been slashed so severely, the Jockey Club could no longer afford a “sparkler”.

Official figures announced 15,000 punters were on track for the night (over 11,000 less than last year’s crowd of 26,612) but internal numbers show just more than 10,000 were left to see Karis Teetan take out the event in race eight, a moment he ranks among the best in his life.

Those who were left could have been forgiven for not knowing Teetan had won the event at all, because the man himself did not even know.

It wasn’t until Teetan returned to the mounting yard on the David Hall-trained High Rev did the Mauritian find out he was HK$500,000 richer, after asking club officials.

An announcement was not made to the crowd and a leader board was nowhere to be seen until well after the final race had been run and won, causing somewhat of an anticlimax.

Take nothing away from Teetan, who was a deserving and popular winner on the night.

In a short space of time, the Mauritian has continually proved that he belongs in the top echelon of jockeys and his joy was infectious.

But while the IJC is a fantastic concept, it is flawed in its current state.

There are essentially only a handful of jockeys – at most – who have a genuine winning chance, and it depends on which horses they draw.

You have to feel for the likes of Oisin Murphy, whose chances were over before it began.

The Irishman was made to punch around $127 chance Oversubscribed in the first leg before jumping on $55 outsider Good Omen in the last event. Good luck.

He was not alone either.

Champion jockey Zac Purton rode Me Tsui Yu-sak’s Australian import Home Made in just his second Hong Kong start.

The four-year-old started $222 on debut and improved to $106 under Purton on Wednesday and is clearly not ready to win on his current mark.

Star Japanese rider Yuga Kawada had his work cut-out for him in the event as soon as he drew Michael Chang Chun-wai’s Travel First, who has started in single figure odds just three times in his last 18 starts and was sent out a $97 chance by punters on Wednesday.

In all, there were seven horses who started at odds of $55 or longer across the four events.

Privately, a couple of top jockeys who flew in for the event were left fuming at some of the horses they were made to ride.

And in what should set alarm bells ringing at the very top level of the Jockey Club, those same jockeys said they would be unlikely to ever return for the event if the current format remains. More needs to be done to ensure a level playing field.

Could the regular entry system with “trump cards” and “priority to run” be scrapped for the four races and Jockey Club handicappers instead handpick the most in-form horses for the race from a group of entries?

Such a system would ensure not only an increased number of genuine winning chances in each race, but could also increase turnover with a host of fancied horses in a more competitive market.

Maybe each race should be seeded – like Japan’s World All-Star Jockeys series? In that event, every race is divided into four – from the leading hopes down to the outsiders (A, B, C and D) – and every jockey gets a ride from each category. It ensures a better spread of chances.

The IJC has all the makings to be one of world racing’s premier events but as long as jockeys are forced to race with one arm effectively tied behind their back, it will never be a fair contest.

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