While there’s been a refreshing level of common sense shown by the Jockey Club since Zac Purton tested positive to Covid-19 on Sunday, the fact Hugh Bowman won’t be in the saddle at Happy Valley on Wednesday night is an indictment on Hong Kong’s Covid-19 strategy.
Bowman, who arrived to begin his three-month Hong Kong stint on Sunday, doesn’t even have Covid, but it was confirmed on Monday that, as a close contact – a family member is infected – he must isolate for a week.
Those following the situation from other parts of the world, where a more proactive pandemic approach has been adopted, must be shaking their heads in disbelief.
The Jockey Club is moving heaven and earth to attract star riders, and having this happen the day after Bowman’s arrival is a terrible advertisement for Hong Kong.
It’s a reality that highlights just how far the city has to go before the pandemic is truly in the rear-vision mirror.
At a time when many jockeys around the world aren’t even tested for Covid – let alone sidelined by it – sport is moving on across the board and the recently concluded T20 World Cup cricket tournament operated under a perfectly sensible pandemic framework.
There was no mandatory testing during the tournament and no isolation period for players with Covid-19, with team doctors responsible for assessing whether players who had tested positive should play.
However unlikely it seems as we continue to move at a snail’s pace, that’s to where Hong Kong racing must – and eventually will – get.
Thankfully, the fallout from Purton’s positive test has been one that shows the progress Hong Kong has made, even if the events of the past couple of days as a whole show how far the city still has to go.
While Purton will miss Wednesday night’s Happy Valley meeting, he’s a chance to take part in Sha Tin’s feature card this weekend – he has rides in all three Group Two contests – if he tests negative in time.
The Jockey Club has allowed Purton – and Bowman, for that matter – to keep his mounts and for standby jockeys to be declared.
The trainers of Purton’s rides have agreed to wait, with Matthew Chadwick standing by to ride California Spangle in the Jockey Club Mile and Beauty Joy in the Jockey Club Cup, while Matthew Poon Ming-fai will partner Lucky Sweynesse in the Jockey Club Sprint, if needed.
It’s a far cry from the utter mayhem of December 2020, when Christophe Soumillon lost his Hong Kong International Races rides – including Hong Kong Cup winner Normcore – because of a testing irregularity while he was in quarantine.
After catching Covid in the lead-up to the Breeders’ Cup the month prior, Soumillon tested negative five times before coming to Hong Kong, but there were irregularities in his results as he prepared to complete his 14-day hotel isolation.
With his quarantine extended, Soumillon was stood down from his rides on the Thursday before Sunday’s marquee meeting as Jockey Club officials grappled with a Hong Kong government approach to Covid-19 that lacked clarity.
Soumillon was then released on the Friday after an additional 36 hours of confinement, and in plenty of time to take his rides on the Sunday if he still had them.
It was a situation that reflected the chaos that’s surrounded much of the city’s pandemic response, which has been littered with uncertainty, a lack of direction and poor communication.
Thankfully, however, the state of play has evolved to the point where the Jockey Club has been able to operate with the level of certainty required to ensure Purton and Bowman haven’t been stood down from any rides except those of which officials have legally been required to relieve them.
Purton, who confirmed on Monday he’s feeling fine, hopes he’ll get a clearer picture in the next couple of days as to whether he’ll be able to return on Sunday.
“We’ll be able to monitor my nucleic levels, and they can monitor my viral load, so we should have a good indication by Wednesday whether I might be able to ride on Sunday,” Purton said.