Trainers battling to meet the Jockey Club's benchmark performance levels are about to have the blowtorch applied to them as the bar is to be raised even higher.
Raising the benchmark licensing criteria has not been addressed since the number of meetings per season was increased from 78 to 83 in the 2009-10 season but trainers have unofficially been informed there will be changes and the South China Morning Post understands official confirmation of those changes is imminent.
Under the current criteria, trainers are subject to a "three strikes" policy, requiring them to train at least 13 winners per season and that number is about to go to 15.
In the past, trainers have been able to call on their second and third placings to make their case for a satisfactory performance, but the club may remove that option and replace it with a similar argument based on prize-money earnings.
In addition to the raised benchmarks, trainers have already been informed unofficially they must sign a code of conduct agreement as a prerequisite to being licensed.
Trainers who are yet to achieve 13 winners this season are Francis Lui Kin-wai (12), David Ferraris (11), Gary Ng Ting-keung (10), Andreas Schutz (10) and Almond Lee (8).
A trainer missing the mark for the first time is asked to submit a written explanation for his stable's poor performance to the licensing committee. Following a second failure, the trainer is placed on notice that another failure to meet the criteria, at any time in the future, will result in a "show cause" hearing.
The third strike is that hearing to show cause why a licence should be issued for the next season.
The performance benchmarks were introduced in the 1999-2000 season when the requirements were for 12 wins and HK$6 million in stakes.
In 2003, that was tightened to 13 wins, HK$8 million in stakes, a five per cent winning strike rate and a requirement for stable strength of at least 20 sound horses. That is where the win benchmark has remained, although the prize money and win percentage clauses were removed in May, 2007.
Meanwhile, the appeal by trainer Sean Woods against a HK$100,000 fine issued over comments made by the trainer after Free Judgement won at Sha Tin on March 20 will be heard on Tuesday. Woods is expected to be represented by barrister Kevin Egan at the hearing.