Dr Well case shows up gap in the rules

Of all the horses to cause such a stir, nobody would have picked Dr Well to be catalyst for some of the drivel which was being spoken on Sunday at Sha Tin.

The gelding has gained a reputation for his consistent ability to surprise rather than an ability to surprise consistently, but he put on a reversal of form that confounded trainer John Size along with just about everybody else.

Beaten 'many lengths' last at his previous effort against many of the same horses, Dr Well's presence in Sunday's Queen Mother Memorial Cup was not queried much until he won.

At which point, there was even a bizarre opinion that he should be ruled ineligible and disqualified since he hadn't jumped the usual penalty hurdles required when beaten 'many lengths' - a trial and official veterinary examination. And if he had, he would not have been running again so soon. Right. And if I'd been born Brad Pitt the world would be a different place, too.

When all is said and done, however, chief steward Jamie Stier's admission that the matter 'slipped through the net' will be an unsatisfactory explanation to many and the case is by no means rare.

As pointed out in this column, Silent Witness was, surprisingly, not sent to the trials after the Centenary Sprint Cup, despite running pathetically for the world's champion sprinter.

More recently, a lesser beast in Rainbow Diamond was, surprisingly, able to run again within seven days after returning from a break at Happy Valley on April 12 and trailing the field throughout, with jockey Robbie Fradd making a close study of the horse's action in the home straight.

In fact, there was no mention of the horse in the stewards' report for the April 12 meeting, though it may have been prudent to ask some questions about a horse with a history of leg problems before he was unleashed on the public a week later.

Of course, Rainbow Diamond didn't win, so nobody cared. Had Dr Well run second, the protests would have been non-existent.

There have been others but these two recent ones come to mind immediately.

Certainly, there is nothing firmly in black and white in the rules to cover such matters - the 'trial and official examination' is an undefined policy.

Which, unfortunately, puts the whole matter back under the old, unsatisfactory rule number one: anything at anytime that isn't covered by something else in the rules is completely up to whatever the stewards' panel decides to do. Or not.

The concept of 'that's racing' is valid throughout the world and, in most places, would have to do. Horses go to the races in Europe, America, Australia or South Africa and win or lose and the reasons for disappointing runs are usually never known.

There is an argument to say that is not a terrible thing - in the absence of some hard evidence on what happened, punters and racing people generally are often a little more forgiving of a poor effort from a normally consistent horse, like Dr Well.

But in minutely regulated and strenuously investigated Hong Kong, where every limp, cough or hair out of place is reported and punters have been trained to expect an explanation, turning to them and explaining it away as 'that's racing' does come across as rather lame.