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  • Writer's pictureAlan Aitken

Dishing the dirt - the top HK yards to follow on the all-weather AND what to avoid

The all-weather, or dirt, track at Sha Tin is where all of Hong Kong's horse population is trained on a daily basis, so you'd think everyone was equal on that surface but you'd be wrong.

The dirt season began on September 10, with Amazing Moment (left) giving Paul O'Sullivan the first winner on it in 2017-18, so we thought it's time to pull dirt racing apart and look for an edge.

There are some turf gallops and quite a few turf trials, but the dirt tracks at Sha Tin are the work horses of the morning trackwork sessions, whether it's fast work, slow or somewhere in between.

The largest of the dirt tracks also doubles as a racing surface, with around 10 per cent of the season's races run there. They turn over a little less money than the turf - a reflection of Hong Kong's distinct slant to turf racing - but still do good business.

Some horses prefer the turf and do not fire on the dirt, despite the fact they work and trial on it - maybe it's the surface underfoot, in many cases it's the kickback in their faces - although it isn't unknown for horses to learn to handle it with experience, especially later in life when the dirt can be more forgiving ground than firm turf.And there are horses which are moderate performers on turf and regular winners on the dirt.

Like horses, there are trainers and jockeys who stand out on the dirt surface. With jockeys - and we'll get to them in another blog - it tends to be because they get horses into better rhythms and don't stop and start on them, but the reasons that trainers excel on the dirt are more of a mystery. Yet, there are clearly patterns as our tables show.

The first table is constructed from all dirt runners for each trainer over the past 4 complete seasons. The reason for choosing those 4 years is that it encompasses the whole training careers of Chris So and Benno Yung, so that is a like for like comparison with the longer-serving trainers.

Not many regular Hong Kong punters would guess that John Size is the leading dirt trainer, by both winners and winning percentage. He has an uncanny knack of knowing when to switch horses from the turf and few of his first time dirt runners miss the placings.

Two things stand out when we compare that All Runners table with the table of runners in the market, right: (1) the same trainers dominate the results, and (2) many trainers only get results with the ones the market expects.

Four of the top five dirt trainers with horses 11.0 or under - acknowledged chances - are the same men.

That speaks for itself butthen take a look at look at what might be called the "rubbish".

Danny Shum, for example, has 11 wins from 63 dirt runners when the market expects them to run well but just 2 winners from 124 runners outside the main market chances. This is a pattern that repeats when we separate the longer-priced runners in the table below. Derek Cruz has had just 57 runners over 10-1 in the last 4 years on the dirt but none of them has won and Almond Lee - whose 4 wins on the dirt in this period include 3 for one horse, Deja Vu - has been a no-show with his 132 runners over 10-1.

Meanwhile, Size, So and Shum - three of our top five dirt trainers with runners in the market - had a combined 287 runners at 11.0 or longer for only 4 winners.

Horses starting longer than 11.0 in general, on all tracks, produce about 20 per cent of the winners in Hong Kong racing so these figures resonate - if they aren't fancied as chances on the dirt, they really aren't any chance at all from what are otherwise some of the most successful yards

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