On the Rails
It's a perfect storm of issues and chief steward Kim Kelly is facing his first real test of character in the job since he took over last August
What with an inquiry into the handling of Collection and the revelation of a level two blood in his trachea eight days prior, the Ming Hoi Treasure cocaine discovery (and a boycott of a trainers' meeting by about half of the trainers as a result of how they viewed its handling) and criticism of strong careless riding penalties, Kelly has a full plate.
There hasn't been a gnashing of teeth like this over the actions of the stewards since John Schreck upheld the De Integro protest at Happy Valley in March 2002 - and that one brought the extraordinary Basil Fawlty-like claim that 'this is exactly how Nazi Germany started'. Rather overcooked, but certainly colourful.
One of our Chinese language counterparts has reportedly even taken the remarkable step of closing his betting account, after 30 years as a Jockey Club customer, over Darren Beadman's handling of Collection.
Well, it's his account, he can do what he likes, but if he didn't close it after the stewards' lack of a response to Michael Kinane's ride on Benji in 1996, then it pales as an act of protest to be taken seriously. Maybe he's just trying to change the luck.
This column has always been happy to take the stewards on when they are clearly wrong - and it certainly does happen.
We had our say on the Collection issue last week and, after the reconvened hearing on Friday, would still only say the blood in trachea episode could have been more significant than the weight it was given. Beadman's handling of Collection was not unreasonable, considering how little help he was getting from the animal itself, but Beadman gave evidence that he did have the bad scope in his mind during the race.
Penalties for Matthew Chadwick and Howard Cheng Yue-tin after a rough finish at the Valley, when neither could reasonably have expected to emerge without a stiff penalty, threw up something that has long fascinated us, the bird in the hand preference of jockeys.
According to the Jockey Club - perhaps Chadwick would disagree? - Chadwick's earnings are better than HK$40,000 per meeting ON AVERAGE. He should be in front by getting a fine instead of days off. But ask him - or any of the other top jockeys - if he'd rather have two days' suspension or HK$80,000 in fines and he will go for the two days every time. He might figure they were going to be slow days.
As for the cocaine in Ming Hoi Treasure's system, well, we can find no threshold level in our copy of the rules, though there are levels for a number of other substances and their mere presence does not make for a positive test inquiry.
That it did not in this case may be out of rhythm with the automatic penalty of days past, but then trainers are looking at it glass half-empty. That Kelly (pictured) is prepared to tread a different path, to judge the case on its own particular merits than do the easy thing and stand behind an automatic fine or disqualification is a step forward.
Those trainers who are upset now will be right to expect the same standards if they are in the same position one day.
Perhaps the stewards' conclusion that an extremely minor detection required reference to the security department, rather than any other action, also belongs under the small print of Rule 9. That's the one that says: anything not covered specifically in the rules is automatically at the judgment and discretion of the stewards of the club. And their powers are specifically conferred on the stipendiary stewards, ie Kelly's team, on behalf of the stewards.
It isn't called the hot seat for nothing.