Hong Kong at world’s forefront of racing integrity measures
Among the world’s leading horse racing organisations, The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) has long been recognised for its dedication to racing integrity, which is often considered the bedrock of a healthy industry. Integrity is a crucial element of the ‘Sport of Kings’ because stakeholders such as horse owners, trainers and jockeys, as well as racing fans, need to be confident at all times that horses racing against each other are competing on a level playing field.
Now the Club’s world-renowned Racing Laboratory at Sha Tin is taking this commitment a stage further by pioneering research in the development of new doping control techniques using ‘biomarkers’, which focus on the biological effects of drugs instead of testing for the presence of specific substances.
Club scientists presented their latest findings to the industry in June at the 64th American Society for Mass Spectrometry Conference in San Antonio, Texas. “The efficacy of conventional drug testing is diminishing over time, and the Club is making significant progress towards a new way of equine doping control through this biomarkers project,” explained the HKJC’s Head of Racing Laboratory, Dr Terence Wan.
Executive Director, Racing Authority, Andrew Harding went a stage further, saying it was clear that the Club had become one of the industry leaders worldwide in doping control. “Integrity is a key element to the success of racing in Hong Kong and the Club’s relentless efforts in maintaining a high standard of racing control have been endorsed by international racing jurisdictions and are undoubtedly trusted by customers,” he observed.
The Racing Laboratory’s groundbreaking work, which is a keystone in maintaining that trust, has shown that horses administered with steroidal aromatase inhibitors can be identified by monitoring the biomarkers in the urine samples, without the need to test for the inhibitors themselves or their unique metabolites. This research, first published in the prestigious journal Analytical Chemistry, has received considerable attention including a report in The Economist. “More work is needed to validate this method and to develop similar tests for other groups of banned substances, but this has been an incredibly positive step towards changing the dynamics of equine doping control,” Dr Wan says.
As an organisation that prides itself on its world-class horse racing and sports betting products, the HKJC has long regarded racing integrity as a core value of its operations, and believes this has been one of the contributory factors to its success. The growing professionalism of the sport in recent decades, as well as the quickening pace of its internationalisation, has demanded constant upgrading of doping controls.
Meanwhile, another recent development in the Racing Laboratory is the use of horse hair for the testing of prohibited substances. Chemist Dr Karen Kwok, a member of the team that has developed the new test, explains that traces of drugs last much longer in hair than they do in the blood and urine used commonly in drug testing. Through just one hair sample, over 100 drugs can be detected, greatly improving the efficiency of testing and further helping to ensure the fairness and integrity of Hong Kong’s world-class racing.
“There is a unique story behind each hair sample,” Kwok says. “Chemists are like detectives looking into a case. Our mission is to ensure that no horse has been given banned substances, and as such, to uphold racing integrity and protect the innocent participants.” She believes the development of the new hair tests will reinforce awareness of the Club’s determination to ensure drug-free racing among the sport’s stakeholders, and further protect the health and well-being of the horses.
Thanks to the staunch commitment made by the HKJC to ensuring the highest levels of racing integrity, coupled with the dedication and professionalism of people like Dr Wan and Kwok, the Club can take pride in the fact that over a ten-year period to June 2015, the average rate of positives from post-race samples in Hong Kong was more than five times lower than the world average.
Equipped with the very latest technology, the Club’s Racing Laboratory has earned numerous awards and is recognised by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) as one of only four regional reference laboratories in the world – and the only one in Asia. At the 19th International Conference of Racing Analysts and Veterinarians in Philadelphia in 2012, Dr Wan was honoured with the prestigious Association of Official Racing Chemists Award, while another member of the professional staff Dr Jenny Wong was honoured with the Young Scientist Award.
The innovative nature of the Club’s newly-developed steroids test in horse hair has already earned peer recognition, winning The Best Poster Award at the 42nd International Symposium on High Performance Liquid Phase Separations and Related Techniques.
It is no coincidence that the HKJC is among the world leaders in doping control, and that its efforts to maintain high standards of racing control have not only been praised by international racing bodies, but also instilled trust among its customers.