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Slow pace equals Sha Tin track record in Ladies’ Purse – how?

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Track record! Southern Legend stopped the clock at 1:45.25 over 1,800m at Sha Tin – @HongKong_Racing

Visually and anecdotally, the pace in Sunday’s Group Three Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse was only moderate, but the times tell a different story. How can there be such a discrepancy?

Watching the race, they didn’t look to be going hard – the field was tightly packed – and the likes of Furore, Insayshable and Ho Ho Khan were able to make mid-race moves pretty comfortably.

Check out these post-race quotes from some of the jockeys:

Vincent Ho Chak-yiu (Ho Ho Khan): “He ran OK, the pace was against us and the track as well.”

Karis Teetan (Furore): “I couldn’t get [any] cover with the slow pace so I went around them.”

Matthew Poon Ming-fai (Citron Spirit): “He finished off well but the pace wasn’t fast.”

Chad Schofield (Singapore Sling): “He was up racing in a role that doesn’t suit him much but the pace was slow and he had a light weight, so we rolled the dice but he didn’t close off like we hoped he would.”

Peter Ho Wah-lun (Sacred Capital): “He ran well but they slowed down the pace – that’s why I was three-wide … but he finished strong for fourth, I’m very happy with that.”

These are all experienced riders who know what their horses are capable of – clearly they had plenty up their sleeve during the early-to-middle stages.

However, the sectionals tell a different tale. The first four are all under standard for Group racing over that trip, with the last 400m the only one outside.

So how does this happen?

Like with most things, there are a combination of reasons – the weather, the grass, the wind, sample size and the quality of horses all playing a role.

The natural response is to assume the ground is too hard, but Jockey Club head of raceday operations, tracks and racing facilities Stephen Higgins is adamant that is not the case, revealing that 75.5mm of water was applied in the week leading up to the meeting.

“In terms of all the measurements that we use – the penetrometer, turf clegg hammer, shear vane, going stick – the trend over the last two years is that the tracks are less firm and the moisture content is higher and the times are quicker,” said Higgins, confirming that horse welfare is a priority for his team.

“People’s thought process is fast times equals fast ground but that doesn’t necessarily hold true.

“One theory might be that with a marginally easier surface, horses are more comfortable and are running quicker.

“It’s something that we’re focused on – producing softer training surfaces and marginally softer racing surfaces.”

This time of year is conducive to fast times – Southern Legend broke the mark set by Nassa in the same race two years ago – particularly with the unseasonably warm weather and low humidity, as well as the condition of the grass itself.

“It was the first meeting back after transition [from summer grass to winter grass] – the grass is at its absolute shortest for any point of the season,” Higgins said.

“The grass length was between 3-3.25 inches in length, the usual move height is 4-4.5 inches with thicker sward. The rye is only two weeks old, so the resistance of the surface is pretty low.”

There was also a tailwind down the back straight for most of the day (the first 850m of the Ladies’ Purse), meaning there was a headwind in the home straight (430m) and that could also be a factor.

“That was clearly the case early on in the day but it eased off later. It wasn’t anything overly dramatic,” Higgins said.

It is also worth remembering that these are some of the best horses in Hong Kong and given there are just two Group races over 1,800m at Sha Tin each season (the Premier Plate in June is the other), there is only a small sample size of top-level gallopers racing over the course and distance.

There is no doubt that horses were capable of running fast times in Sunday’s conditions – Thanks Forever also set a new 1,200m class record – but like anything, lots of little factors are at play.

The jockeys were not wrong to say the pace was slow early – the shape of the race said it was – but equally, the conditions meant they were physically going quicker than they thought. Sometimes it happens.

It might not be a sexy explanation in this environment of hot takes, but it is probably the most accurate.

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