RACING writer, ALAN AITKEN, reports in the SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST that Chief steward Kim Kelly emerged unscathed from his first season in the hot seat - but he had his moments.

The end of April saw Kelly put to his sternest test, when the odds-on defeat of Collection in the QE II Cup brought a reflex-action outpouring of scorn from the betting public.

Many journalists hitched their wagon to it, calling for Kelly's sacking or the cat o' nine tails, or both, over his failure to take action against Darren Beadman.

There were two cough medicine positives for jockeys, and Marco Chui Kwan-lai tested positive again to ketamine in February, only months after finishing a six-month ban for his first offence. That probably warranted a social worker as much as a stipe, but Chui landed the biggest penalty of the season with a 12-month disqualification.

If Kelly's reign could be characterized by anything in particular after one term, then a fresh application of common sense might have been it.

When several horses were withdrawn from races in September after testing pre-race positive to testosterone, no penalties were handed out. Kelly said the pre-race screening had done its job. But the real source of work for a panel which saw Steve Railton join it for the first time, was the apprentice jockeys.

Not so much Matthew Chadwick, although his fall in October and some unconscious moments on the track gave the stipes something to think about, but the boys who finished as the leading juniors - Keith Yeung Ming-lun, Derek Leung Ka-chun and Ben So Tik-hung. Yeung was able to win 30 winners and take the junior title, despite spending 27 days suspended only because So (27 wins and 23 days) and Leung (25 wins and 26 days), matched him in the stewards' room.

Their 76 days out formed a significant part of the total 235 days banked, with Leung's 10-day reckless riding penalty after causing the most spectacular fall all year. Mostly careless riding, Yeung's bans also included lying to a trainer and failing to follow instructions on Noble Zoom, while So got an eight-day riding and handling ban for Super Fortune. The boys were in the thick of things, playing central roles in some of the more eyebrow-raising races, and Yeung and So admitted living under the same roof at the apprentices' hostel, they discussed their rides before every meeting.

At international time, stewards and veterinary staff deserved a good mention after Vision D'Etat's Hong Kong Cup win. Reported lame the day before, the French-trained three-year-old might easily have been withdrawn. Common sense prevailed, on the advice of trainer Eric Libaud and the vets the issue had subsided sufficiently for the colt to race, and Vision D'Etat won.




AITKEN also reports that the 2009-10 Hong Kong racing season – although strangely quiet at some times – will be remembered for an extraordinary jockey championship, for records broken, for champions who rose and fell, or the merely mortal, and who won or lost.

There was no ICAC arrest, no rocket-propelled darts embedded in Happy Valley (the addition of more appalling C+3 meetings aside).

For scandal, we had to make do with the emotion-driven campaign against Darren Beadman and the stewards' panel in the Chinese media after Collection's QE II Cup defeat.

Or content ourselves with the rumblings around the race tactics or the discussions of them by apprentice jockeys living under the same roof. The juniors played a far more prominent part in the play this season than their usual consignment to the chorus.

Or we had to feel sympathy for Marco Chiu Kwan-lai - not long returned from six months' disqualification in June last year for a positive test to the drug ketamine when he was gone again in February and his career on the skids.

There was a farewell to former champion trainer Ivan Allan, who passed away in Singapore after battling illness. He was always a man who polarized opinions to the extreme and "loved or hated" probably didn't describe the full spectrum of emotions he inspired in people, but no-one could deny his genius both as a trainer and buyer of horses.

Even the World Cup couldn't slow the increased turnover for the season which took betting back to 2002 levels, albeit with some tweaking and spin-doctoring of products. The five extra meetings and the added foreign simulcasts were mostly well received, though the television coverage of the latter drew plenty of complaints.

On the track, racing fans remained spoiled by the level of international achievement as locals were again a stumbling block for visitors to Sha Tin and held their own while travelling - Green Birdie and Joy And Fun bringing back international prizes from Singapore and Dubai.

Brett Prebble became the first jockey to win six races on a day, but even that wasn't enough to get him the championship. The contest went down to the last three races of the season and saw Douglas Whyte retain ownership of the title for a 10th straight year. Caspar Fownes took his first Derby and equalled a decades-old record when he trained six winners on a card but, like Prebble, who rode most of those six, he had to settle for second in the championship.

He handed that title back to the man he had taken it from last year, John Size, whose season revolved around a sixth championship in nine seasons and making Entrapment the first horse to win seven races in a season along the way. A lesser-known record also fell to Lazy Buddies, who made his 112th race start and took that particular achievement from First Knight before being retired.

Once again, the government was a mighty winner from its decision three years ago to allow a restructuring of the internal revenue arrangements for its biggest taxpayer, the Jockey Club.

The Jockey Club is HK$250 million better off over those three years.

The government, however, has been able to lift its return from racing from HK$7.9 billion in 2007 to HK$9 billion this year. That's a spread of loads and returns that the Jockey Club may want to address, especially with issues like its master plan to invest in itself now ready to go.

Two years since it was first discussed, the master plan to keep racing vital and relevant has now been approved by the board of stewards. The club will reveal a road map before the start of next season to outline the direction of a multi-billion investment in modernising its facilities. Part of the master plan will be the building of world-class training facilities at the Congha facility near Guangzhou, once it is acquired by the Jockey Club after the Asian Games, in a move that will alter the culture of Hong Kong racing for ever. It's a move the club insists is absolutely necessary as its Sha Tin facility ages.

Investments in intellectual technology, an advanced and improved internet platform are on the agenda, too, after the World Cup showed how resilient are the gambling avenues that threaten the Club.

"Our competition is just a mouse click away," warns chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, whose plans for next term include revamping how the club connects with customers and a new marketing guru, whose background includes being a punter and racing enthusiast. That's an area where the Jockey Club wants progress - key employees in many areas are unable to perform better because they have no understanding of the customer's needs, having never been customers themselves.

The club made a step towards a more functional perspective when it announced, late in the season, a significant change to policy: from next season, club workers who are not employed in sensitive departments will be permitted to bet for the first time.

It is part of the drive by Engelbrecht-Bresges for the club to be "customercentric not merely customer-serving".

"This has been a good season - one of exciting racing and continued progress - look at where we were three years ago, before the reforms, and see where we are now. But the challenges don't disappear," he said.




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