Gate Scratches Cost HK Jockey Club

Series of scratches means considerable refunds.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club will have a full debrief with the starting team and stipendiary stewards in the wake of a series of late scratches at the barrier at Sha Tin Jan. 4 that cost the club more than $HK60 million in refunded bets.

The lion’s share of that money was tied up with Tuscan Spirit, the even-money favorite for the Hung Shui Kiu Handicap. The John Size-trained galloper is known to be difficult in the barrier and "lost it" after being in the stalls too long for his tolerance level.

Tuscan Spirit took a mighty lunge at the gates before the starter pressed the "go" button, with the result that he burst open his gate, unseating jockey Douglas Whyte and with a bloodied nose to show for his efforts.

It took veterinary surgeon Dr Brian Stewart just one glance at the blood streaming from Tuscan Spirit’s nose to realize the favorite could not be allowed to run, the red flag was raised, and the most interesting match race of the day dissolved without trace.

In Tuscan Spirit’s absence, the other main chance Blaze King firmed to start at $18.50 and was never really in bother once the race actually began, sliding across from his inside barrier (3) to the outside section of the track and scoring comfortably by 1 3/4 lengths from Kindacross. It was Blaze King’s second win in two appearances and the Tony Millard-trained sprinter looks destined for bigger things.

In the same race, Galactic Tactic was a late scratching after panicking behind the barrier while blindfolded. He went straight through a fence, giving Terry Wong Chi-wai a painful blow to the knee in the process, and was promptly withdrawn.

The total refund on bets from race seven was HK$51,575,464.

In the third event, debutant Keep Going pulled a plate on the way to the start and was deemed lame in the near front leg when arriving at the gates. Once the veterinary surgeon recommended his withdrawal, HK$3.14 million was returned to players.

In fourth event, a Class Four over 1,200 meters on the all-weather track, Metro Rider flipped over and went down in the gates, hurting rider Alex Lai Hoi-wing. The commotion he caused upset Shaxi Baby, two stalls away. Shaxi Baby got himself into a tangle within the stalls from which he had to be extricated, vetted, and ultimately scratched.

The race four refunds amounted to HK$6.29 million.

Executive director of racing, Bill Nader, wasn’t about to blame any individual but admitted the bottom line was "terrible."

"I’ve already had some discussions with (starter) Philip Waldron and (assistant starter) Tony McGovern, and tomorrow (Monday) I’ll be talking to them again and possibly other members of the starting team, together with the chief steward (Jamie Stier)," Nader said.

"The starter has an order in which the horses are loaded into the stalls, and it’s an order based on their past performances at the starting gates, in both races and barrier trials. Tuscan Spirit was scheduled to be loaded fifth-last as there were four horses classified worse than him in terms of barrier behavior."

Nader foreshadowed that the starting team’s future decisions may no longer be completely academic, and may have to take into account some "commercial reality."

"The fact is that this horse does have some barrier issues, but he’s also an even-money favorite," Nader continues. "Today, that meant there was around HK$50 million tied up in him, so his not running in the race makes it a very expensive occurrence from a business standpoint.

"I’d like to get all parties together, get some feedback from the key personnel and see if there isn’t something here we can do better."

The Jockey Club reported a HK$35 million drop in turnover, year on year, and would have been in the position to report a HK$25 million increase if not for the huge refund bill.