Hair today, gone tomorrow - new technique helps war on drugs
Preventing the scourge of illegal drug use by jockeys is behind the introduction of random hair testing for the first time, as chief steward Kim Kelly heads into his third term in the hot seat unfazed by a busy 2010-11.
One rider refused a licence after serving time for ketamine use; another apprentice stripped of his ticket and a stable worker warned off for the same crime; five jockeys penalised with running and handling offences (after only 15 in the previous 10 years); Brett Prebble's month off for elbowing a Japanese rival; and Zac Purton's HK$300,000 fine for failing to report approaches from a punter all added to the usual well-stocked library of careless riding breaches and jockeys dropping their hands at the finish.
By any standard, it was a season of considerable activity, but the key word for Kelly has always been consistency and he believes it was maintained then and will continue to be maintained in the coming season.
'I'd prefer it if we didn't have to have any charges,' Kelly said. 'But things are going to happen. They're not just going to happen in Hong Kong, they're going to happen in any jurisdiction and we just handle them as they arise.
'Whatever happens, we don't go into the season with a mode of 'there's going to be this many charges'... we just go into it with the premise that we'll handle what's going to be in front of us. I told all the licensees when I took over as chief stipe that I wouldn't move the goal posts - and they are in exactly the same spot as they were last season, and the season before that.'
Ketamine again reared its ugly head, with Marco Chui Kwan-lai denied a return after serving a second ketamine ban, a stable assistant contaminating his horse with the drug and apprentice Kevin Leung Ka-wai being found positive twice.
It was hair testing that revealed Leung's second positive and stewards will now use the technique regularly. Hair testing can reveal drug use as far back as 90 days, whereas urine samples can be clear in as little as 48 hours.
While he admits racing is not immune to society's ills, Kelly is determined to maintain Hong Kong's relatively clean record on drug offences.
'We have the toughest testing regime of any racing jurisdiction anywhere in the world,' he said. 'We've only 20-21 riders competing at any one time. We randomly test a minimum of four every meeting but there is no maximum- we may test every jockey at the meeting. So if you're testing four jockeys a meeting and you've only got 20 jockeys and you've got 83 race meetings, it's a very high proportion of jockeys being tested.'
Aside from the new testing policies, which will also extend to more regular checks of trackwork riders, Kelly's aim remains consistency.