HUTCHI’S HK RACING LIBRARY: The Tracks

Clint Hutchison

Clint Hutchison

Hutchi's Honkers Principal Analyst

01/09/20

 

OVERVIEW:

In Hong Kong there are two racecourses, with three tracks that carry the load of the 800-odd races the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) hold there every season (during season 2019-20 there were 828 races).

These days the Hong Kong racing season starts in early September and carries through until mid-July, in accordance with Government regulations. In recent years there has been 88 meetings scheduled for the season, with approximately 50 of those meetings held at Sha Tin. All but one of the Saturday/Sunday meetings are held at Sha Tin where there are usually 10 or 11 races held per meeting. Whereas the mid-week, usually Wednesday meeting is predominantly held at Happy Valley where there are usually 8 or 9 races held per meeting.

The majority of Hong Kong races are held on turf, but the ‘all-weather’ (AWT) or dirt track is also used from time to time, with three or four race meetings held on that surface every season (three in season 2020-21), which also helps “rest” the Happy Valley turf. The turf at both Sha Tin and Happy Valley is StrathAyr sand-based that drain exceptionally well and are designed that way to deal with the heavy rainfall that can occur during the monsoon season (May-September). Last season there were 514 races Sha Tin and 306 at Happy Valley.

 

SHA TIN:

The Sha Tin turf track is 1,900m in circumference and contains a straight 1,000m course. The straight for the “course proper” is 430 metres long and a maximum of 14 runners per race can be entered. The distance range for Sha Tin races are between 1,000m and 2,400m.

The Sha Tin all-weather track (AWT) is 1,560m in circumference, with a 365m straight, with a maximum of 12 runners per field for 1,200m races and 14 runners for races over distances above that.

In HK racing there is rail movement from meeting to meeting as highlighted in the graphic from www.hkjc.com. There are certainly some patterns that arise with this rail movement and in conjunction with similar rail movements year-in-year-out, reference to specific meetings and how the track ‘played’, one might be able to observe some advantages over the market.

For example, pre-2018 a noted track pattern for the “A Course” was that it suited “swoopers”, that is, horses that made their runs four plus horse widths off the rail in the straight. Since then, that pattern on the “A Course” became far less pronounced, and in fact it wasn’t easy to make ground at all. However, the last meeting run on the “A Course” at Sha Tin at the end of season 2019-20, seemed to revert to pre-2018 “type”.

 

HAPPY VALLEY:

The information surrounding the Happy Valley track is highlighted in the graphic again available from www.hkjc.com. Because of it’s tight, turning nature, interestingly, there is a slight change in the length of the straight depending on the rail position, and this track in recent years has arguably had stronger patterns or bias compared to the turf at Sha Tin.

CONGHUA (CHINA):

The HKJC also have a track facility in Conghua, China, which currently acts as another training and trialing facility. They do not currently hold any betting races there because of Mainland China regulations.

TRACK BIAS:

Track bias exists naturally on all tracks around the globe and of course Hong Kong racing is not immune to this. Horse racing when “around a bend” by it’s very nature can advantage those horses that cover less distance than others.

Compared to most tracks around the world the bias that is evident on the turf at both Sha Tin and Happy Valley is relatively minimal and often predictable. That said, with a handicapping system (that will be discussed in a later article) that is so tightly bound, small edges in patterns are somewhat amplified. By that I mean, for example, there might not be much separating the top-six chances in a race at Happy Valley, so small patterns and their impact can have more of an adverse affect on runners and their respective finishing positions – “a game of inches”.

One of the more significant track biases in Hong Kong is clearly down the straight 1,000m course at Sha Tin, where racing hard up against the outside rail – on the grandstand side – is clearly advantaged. I believe it is due to the compaction of the turf track where trials are held, but ultimately it doesn’t matter why, it just is that way. It can be up to 4-lengths better on that patch of ground but measuring the bias is a very subjective process! The HKJC have tried to overcome the bias by installing a “false outside rail” that is up to 6-metres in from the normal position.

 

MAINTENANCE:

The turf tracks are usually watered on the morning of the races and depending on the time of year, the moisture in the ground will obviously dry out as the day goes on. If rain is forecast on the day, then often the track manager might decide against watering a track in the morning and if there is only a light shower, then that track can really race very fast indeed.

Both turf tracks have amazing drainage, reported to be able to move 100mm of water per hour. In June 2020, Sha Tin endured 500mm of rain in the 48 hours leading up to raceday and they still held the race meeting. In 2016 Happy Valley endured over 200mm of rain in the 36 hours before a meeting, including a staggering 100mm within 3 hours of race 1, only for the track to be upgraded to Good by race 7, after there was no rain once the races began.

The turf tracks are “ripped up” and re-laid after every season and there is a lot of maintenance on the track through out any given season. There are actually two types of grass that they race on during the season; a “winter grass” and a “summer grass”. The “winter grass” is usually sewn into the turf tracks around the end of October, early-November, and this happens at a similar time every year. The “summer grass” is sewn-in at the end of March, start of April.

The all-weather track (AWT) is regularly maintained through the season, as it is the main work track. It can ride very differently through the season depending on the time of year and the weather. The effects of heat and humidity can change how the composite artificial surface, or “dirt” acts. All the “dirt” is imported and the blend of the surface can also be changed through the season to help “cope” with different weather. As is the case with dirt racing, early pace is of paramount importance and particularly those races held over the sprint distances, leading or settling close to the pace and on the rail can be a real advantage.

 

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