A fine may await, but Allan has done the Club a favour

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 12:00am

The front door is closed on the Cheers Hong Kong-Isosorbide case but in the coming Licensing Committee interview for trainer Ivan Allan and in the underlying reality of what happened here, there are still trapdoors to negotiate.

Allan can hardly expect to go scot-free for taking the inquiry into the media. Two years ago, trainer Brian Kan Ping-chee copped a $100,000 fine after making some derogatory remarks about a protest decision which didn't turn out to his liking and Allan must surely be prepared for the same.

While the Jockey Club will not wish to tolerate public attacks on officials, one has to consider where the upgrade policies would have been without Allan and whether the net result of 'Shampoogate' would have been satisfactory without his unorthodox defence.

Allan has had as big a part in putting Hong Kong on the international map as any Jockey Club policy and more than any other trainer. Until he arrived, 10 years ago this season, Hong Kong horses were not regarded elsewhere as second-rate - they were thought to be third-rate and one of the great mysteries was how the betting turnover was so high on low-class racing.

Fairy King Prawn's Yasuda Kinen win, his classification as joint best sprinter in the world, Indigenous' second in the Japan Cup, Oriental Express' second in the Yasuda Kinen - all benchmark achievements for Hong Kong and all trained by Allan.

This season, Come See You became only the second horse to win away from home in a feature and Allan continues to work to add to Hong Kong's international profile when any trainer can sit back and say 'the money's great here, let's just stay home'.

His detractors will argue that his outbursts over the Isosorbide hearing have dragged racing through the mud in a public sense, but how might things have turned out otherwise? It may not have looked pretty, but Allan may have done racing a favour when he refused to lie down.

For a start, he has saved the Club the embarrassment of finding guilty an innocent man, usually a prized result in any judicial system. And Allan's outbursts forced the Jockey Club to work harder to find the source of the Isosorbide. Given the circumstances which are believed to have led to the Cheers Hong Kong positive test - and may now be found to have been responsible in Alex Wong Siu-tan's Winmark case in December - Allan has saved considerable future embarrassment.

After Winmark's positive and Wong's subsequent $150,000 fine, the source of the Isosorbide was not discovered and one wonders if it would have been found had Allan looked at the catch-all rule under which he was charged, shrugged his shoulders and paid the fine.

There would have been no drive to find the Imaverol shampoo which contained the substance, and three months down the track we may have found another unexplained positive. What would an unbroken stream of positives do for the reputation of Hong Kong racing?

The Allan case has now forced the Club to look further into the communication between its constantly improving laboratory capabilities and the veterinary department's supplies, caused the stewards to recommend the Club look at procedures once new testing capabilities arise and further down the track will force everyone to examine drug rules anew.

The Jockey Club vets have been handing out Imaverol for 20 years. It has only reared up as a problem now the Club has the capability to test for Isosorbide. There are thousands of other treatments used frequently for many years - how many will one day turn up positives because of improved testing?

The rules cannot simply penalise a trainer automatically because the laboratory capability has changed overnight, and at some point administrators will even have to put their hands in the murky, piranha-filled waters of pharmacological assessment.

For some time, the argument has raged about therapeutic drugs as opposed to performance enhancement drugs. Trainers and many owners in other drug-free jurisdictions argue it is unfair for a horse to be barred from racing, or found positive, for the equivalent of a cold tablet. They argue that many drugs used are merely to get horses through a minor problem more quickly and will have no effect on their speed.

This column doesn't buy that argument. It is a matter of semantics to say that enabling horses to race despite a minor virus does not have a performance enhancement aspect. Could he race well without the 'cold tablet' drugs? The answer would be no.

If you accept that argument, then it's only a small step conceptually to arguing that a chronic bleeder only requires Lasix for therapeutic reasons so he will be able to race or a chronically sore horse only needs a pain-killer to enable him to run and it won't make him go faster than he is capable of going.

In the case of Cheers Hong Kong, the drug has been applied as part of a wash to kill off a skin rash. He can race with or without this treatment? Perhaps. What if the skin rash was along his back and made it impossible to put a saddle on him without the treatment? Then he would require the treatment to be able to race.

Yet, in such a case, wherein no expert was prepared to state the effect, if any, of Isosorbide on the horse in a race, is it good enough to have an automatic and heavy penalty for showing up with a banned but hitherto virtually unknown substance which may not make one iota of difference in performance?

And Allan's other point regarding the security aspect is even more valid in the light of the origin of the Isosorbide - is it good enough for Hong Kong to adopt the same one-size-fits-all rule on drugs as other jurisdictions, even though everything from vet supplies to security is under Jockey Club supervision and control?

The rules penalising trainers for presenting a horse with a banned drug in the system have been written to protect officials as much as anyone else, simply because it is such a difficult area, but it doesn't mean they can't be adjusted from time to time.

No one is arguing that Allan's modus operandi was either normal or desirable, but if the end destination of Cheers Hong Kong's positive turns out to be a total overhaul of how the drugs-in-racing issue is reviewed and resolved, the road taken there may in hindsight look to be a blessing.