Trainer Sean Woods last night made the sensational allegation that his horse Free Judgement may have been nobbled before his last start, or was adversely affected by what he called over-zealous pre-race blood testing, and that Hong Kong Jockey Club stewards failed to take the claims seriously.
Free Judgement (Howard Cheng Yue-tin) swooped for his second all-weather track win under lights this season, but Woods wanted to put the focus squarely back on events surrounding the horse's last start failure on March 2.
"There was something very sinister about his run last time and I complained, but I was shot down," Woods said.
"His eyes were dilating and there was something seriously wrong with him before he ran and he was virtually pulled up more than 22 lengths behind Akeed Mofeed. The whole thing stunk to me."
Woods claimed his horse was blood-tested an inordinate amount of times in the lead up to the race, and that may have caused Free Judgement to run below his best.
Free Judgement lost his action around 100m after jumping from barrier 14 as a 54-1 shot during a Class Two handicap, stewards forcing the six-year-old to trial to their satisfaction before it could start again.
Free Judgement was one of four horses sent for post-race sampling, with tests coming back clear. But Woods cited last night's dramatic form reversal - albeit on a surface he clearly favours - as evidence his horse was somehow "got at" last start.
"He had dilated pupils, he was blinking all the time and they said he lost his action behind, but next day you couldn't hold him in the box, he was that well.
"We trialled him and the horse was amazing and has been amazing since that run. So this win was no surprise," said Woods, who claimed he had never seen anything like the horse's symptoms during his training career.
"I was very concerned about what had happened," he said.
"When you see something out of the ordinary you bring it to their attention, but all they [the HKJC stewards] have done is make my life more difficult."
HKJC Chief Steward Kim Kelly said the first his panel were made aware of Woods' concerns was on the Monday following the Saturday race meeting.
"Free Judgement was subjected to the same pre-race testing as the other 139 runners that day, he was tested post race and again the next day - those tests all came back clear," Kelly said, before defending the club's drug testing regime, calling it "rigorous … to ensure a level playing field."
Unlike the last nighttime meeting at Sha Tin when leaders ran riot on a biased surface also rated wet-slow, last night winners - like Free Judgement - were able to come from back in the field and wide.
Matthew Chadwick grabbed a double and moved to 37 winners for the term, further consolidating third place in the Jockeys' Championship and won the Jockey Challenge on countback.
Invictus (Weichong Marwing) won for the third time in four starts, all of them coming at 1,650m, continuing to appose trainer John Moore's initial assessment of him.
"I had him pegged as a sprinter, but I was wrong," Moore said. "He is a Keeper and they don't cost much at the sales, but they do well here - they handle all of the surfaces and are just good bread and butter Hong Kong horses."
The first two winners of the night took advantage of the track's turnaround in allowing backmarkers a chance - Plot Ratio (Alex Lai Hoi-wing) and Tipperary Davor (Douglas Whyte) both racing wide at stages and still finished strongly.
Whyte's win on Tipperary Davor stretched his lead in the Jockeys' Championship to four wins over Zac Purton, who was winless in three rides.