• Thu
  • Jul 24, 2014
  • Updated: 8:00am
On The Rails
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 11:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 11:59pm

Joint treatments should be publicised

There is a grey area between performance-enhancing and performance-enabling, but injections certainly affect race outcomes

BIO

Alan Aitken has worked in all facets of the media and was the master of the famous AJC Punters Podium at Sydney racecourses for many years. He was one of Australia's most respected racing journalists over almost two decades with The Sydney Morning Herald before joining SCMP in 2001. Alan also has extensive magazine and radio experience and is a respected racing form analyst.
 

More than one winner recently has improved to win after having joint treatments and we wonder if it's time the Jockey Club looked into whether they should be reported.

Trainers are often quite candid post-race about how the injections had made horses more comfortable in their training and what a difference that made in the race.

If we can jump in just before the memo goes out instructing trainers never to mention the war, sorry injections, in pre- or post-race interviews, this is nothing new.

The matter has come up for discussion before, perhaps even in this space some time ago, and nothing changed. That may have been the hangover from a previously held opinion in the vet department that there was no link between race performance and injecting troublesome knees or fetlocks.

If that were the case, it's a wonder anyone does it.

If there is no link between the injections and performance, it's a wonder anyone does it

Braveness, who won at Happy Valley last week after such a treatment, is far from the only one; over a year ago David Hall pointed out that a winner, Jun Dao, might not produce the same form at subsequent runs because of rules restricting his joint treatments.

Around the same time, David Ferraris made it clear that the restrictions hampered the preparation of afflicted horses, including his then top-liner, Sweet Orange, who was withdrawn from the Hong Kong Cup and has since been retired.

And Tony Cruz has frequently been frank about his expectations with the grey star, California Memory, depending on whether the joint treatment boundaries had allowed the gelding to be injected and therefore trained properly.

These treatments are restricted to once a month and by cut-off times prior to racing, but they are significant nonetheless.

For Hong Kong to lecture, on occasion, other jurisdictions in the world about treatment rules but then to be less than transparent about joint injections would raise eyebrows, although we should draw the subtle distinction between performance-enhancing and performance-enabling.

Performance-enhancing would be to use drugs, like anabolic steroids, to build strength and endurance into animals which could never have grown that way if left to nature.

Performance-enabling is to allow what nature has provided to be able to do its thing -but it's performance-impacting treatment nonetheless.

There is a cogent argument that, without the "non performance-enhancing" treatment, the horse may have been unable to turn up perhaps at all and, therefore, would have performed less well.

That line can be used to apply to any treatment: for skin rashes, worms, etc.

Frankly, we don't wish to lay out that entire debate here for any side but the punter's viewpoint: that these joint treatments should become part of the wide sweep of veterinary reports when horses race.

In Hong Kong, the Jockey Club is determinedly transparent about every performance-impacting aspect of racing and training. In the veterinary area, we can see what surgeries horses have had when, and any other issues that have caused them to underperform or miss races or training.

This past six months, even degenerative joint disease cases have begun to be reported on the club's Official Veterinary Examination report - surely it's a small, and obvious, step from that to reporting those cases that have been treated.

The betting customer here could never be unhappy about how committed the Jockey Club is to informing the public, but this sits under the rug despite what appears to be an obvious and immediate correlation to outcomes on the track.

Knowing how thorough the club and its vets are, these treatments are surely entered into a database whenever they take place and, fortunately, that means just a couple of buttons to press to make that information public.

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