The demand in horseracing for a level playing field has been taken up in Hong Kong perhaps more strenuously than elsewhere. There is arguably no more sophisticated drug-testing laboratory than that operated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Little wonder, then, that tests last week picked up the banned weight and muscle-builder zilpaterol in numerous urine samples. For all the zeal for fairness, though, there is a possibility that not so many horses would have been affected had the testing regime paid even greater attention to detail.
There seems nothing deliberate about the drug's presence; rather than being beneficial to horses or a performance-enhancer, it is considered more likely to be damaging to health. It has been traced to feed from an American manufacturer, which also produces feed for farm animals. Zilpaterol is used in feed for cattle and pigs to build bulk. If the same mills are used to make a variety of feeds and are not properly cleaned between production runs, contamination can occur from residue.
That can readily be resolved through better quality control. The club and trainers have to ensure that the manufacturer maintains the highest standards, and if that cannot be assured change to another brand of feed. As obvious as that seems, though, it is not the only measure that should be taken. The club should also increase its testing of feed consignments.
If there has been contamination of feed in stock, it has to be promptly replaced. That is an expensive option given that eight container loads of 40 different feeds arrive at the club's Sha Tin complex each month. In keeping with the highest standards being maintained, though, there is little choice. But this is a short-term solution.
The club is doing a good job of ensuring that horses run drug-free on race day. It is what race-goers expect. But a more thorough sampling of feed consignments would also better protect horses, trainers and owners. Horses need the right fuel to do their job to the best of their ability; the least that the club can do is ensure that it is drug-free and safe.