Leung's drug ban 'a wake-up call'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 September, 2010, 12:00am

The Jockey Club plans to look at improving the drug education process in its much-vaunted apprentice jockey training scheme, but a frustrated top official admitted racing was not immune to wider social issues after Kevin Leung Ka-wai was suspended for six months for a ketamine positive yesterday.

'Naturally we are disappointed and frustrated and really very surprised that this could happen again but ketamine use is a problem among young people in Hong Kong and unfortunately we are not immune to that problem,' said executive director of racing Bill Nader after the stewards handed 10-pound claiming apprentice Leung, 22, a penalty that mirrored the first ban handed out to Marco Chui Kwan-lai in May last year for the same drug.

Leung's positive is the third in 16 months, as Chui tested positive again to ketamine earlier this year after resuming his riding career. He is currently serving a 12-month suspension for the second offence.

Chui was classed a senior rider, having graduated from the apprentice ranks in October 2008.

'If you compare our apprentice training programme to any other programme of the kind in the world, it is an outstanding programme,' Nader said. 'But events like this set back the image we are trying to portray and the athletes we are trying to produce, and do make people have doubts whether our programme is as good as we advertise.

'After Marco Chui, I thought we had sent a clear message, not just to apprentices but to all the jockeys, that we are testing for these substances. And still it happens again. We can't turn a blind eye to it - if it can happen three times, it can happen again, and we will take a good look at the education processes in place. But, by the same token, we can't just lock people up to keep them away from what's going on in the world at large.'

Chief steward Kim Kelly said that Leung (pictured) still had a right of appeal after pleading guilty to a charge under rule 60 (1), dealing with presenting a urine sample that was found to contain a prohibited substance.

'So I'm limited in any comments I might make on the case, but we felt the penalty was the appropriate one, based on the precedent we had,' Kelly said. 'And the stewards will work with the Racing Development Board to address any issues that might be present in this situation.'

The Jockey Club's statement yesterday also carried background regarding the drug-testing regime for jockeys and apprentices during last season, when 533 urine tests for prohibited substances, and 'a similar number of breath tests' for alcohol, took place with riders on race days and after trackwork and barrier trials.

Each licensed individual was tested between 10 and 30 times during the season, with every jockey riding at a race meeting tested on some occasions.

Apart from Chui, the other positive tests returned last season were by Alex Lai Hoi-wing (methylephedrine) and the now-retired Vincent Sit Shun-keung (ephedrine), each of whom returned positives after taking flu medications and served five-day suspensions from race riding.