Mafoo's ketamine tainted Shahjee
Alan Aitken and Patrick Allen
Jockey Club stewards have found that Sha Tin winner Shahjee returned positive tests to ketamine after contamination by his drug-using handler, who has since been sacked.
But the focus of the story may shift back towards the club and why the mafoo was working at the stables of trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai despite being the subject of a court-ordered 12-month probation period over a prior drugs charge.
'The use of ketamine is widespread and we at the club need to become more vigilant in our procedures. In saying that, the mafoo in question had come under our notice for a ketamine problem and was on a second chance,' Bill Nader, executive director of racing, said. 'He had taken leave of absence to undergo a proper rehabilitation programme and was subject to regular random testing by the club. He has now been warned off the racecourse and his employment terminated.'
Nader said this inquiry, in the wake of two jockeys testing positive, reconfirmed the ketamine issue in the Asian region and racing was not immune to societal problems.
'The use of ketamine and other recreational drugs by staff working with horses poses a major contamination issue, and one we want to stamp out,' he said. 'The world around us is changing, and we need to make the necessary adjustments to change with it. The best advice to anyone using ketamine who is working around horses is to quit now.'
The drug findings have been rife in racing in the past two years, with jockey Marco Chui Kwan-lai refused a licence after serving penalties for two separate ketamine positives, and apprentice Kevin Leung Ka-wai faces the licensing committee next week in a show-cause hearing over offences with the drug.
Shahjee became the first horse to test positive with it in Hong Kong, when routine post-race analysis of blood and urine samples after his March 20 win turned up the presence of ketamine and its metabolites norketamine and dehydronorketamine.
When the positive findings emerged, club officials took further samples from the stables assistant in charge of both Shahjee and one other horse trained by Yiu, as well as gathering samples at the mafoo's residence and at Yiu's stables.
Dr Terence Wan See-ming, the club's chief analyst, said two urine samples from the mafoo on April 1 contained 'very high concentrations of ketamine and its metabolites, and all items swabbed at the residence of the stables assistant, under consent, had also shown significant traces of ketamine. Further, swabs of a number of items with which the mafoo had contact in Mr Yiu's stable, as well as the immediate stable environments of Shahjee and the other horse he looked after, had also shown traces of ketamine.'
Wan said further samples taken on April 1 from Shahjee and the other horse had shown traces of ketamine and its metabolites. Stewards determined that the Shahjee positive was 'most probably as a result of contamination caused by the stables assistant who attended to the horse on that day' and released their findings yesterday afternoon.
Under rules on presenting a horse drug-free, stewards stripped Shahjee of his win, promoting the runner-up, the John Size-trained Adoration, to first and raising subsequent placegetters by one position. Shahjee's owner has given notice of his intention to lodge an appeal.
In the 'unique circumstances of this case', stewards stopped short of invoking Rule 140 (2), dealing with a trainer's responsibility for horses turning up to race drug-free and issued no penalty to Yiu, but advised him in future to raise any concerns he may have regarding stable staff.
Chief steward Kim Kelly said the nature of the offence had been the primary reason for suppressing the stables assistant's name. 'We were mindful that ketamine is not only banned in racing, but classified as an illegal substance under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance so, as a domestic sports tribunal, we didn't feel it appropriate to name this person.'