David Morgan

Chief Journalist


Hong Kong Jockey Club veterinary clarity would quieten the ‘drums’

The Hong Kong Jockey Club’s world class website contains a plethora of pre- and post-race reports, but Danny Shum’s post-race comments about Romantic Warrior revealed a gap that needs to be filled.

After Do Deuce was withdrawn from the G1 Dubai Turf in March, at least one of racing’s on-the-spot social media influencers revealed that the ‘jungle drums’ had been sounding ‘all week’. The problem with that was, if the drums were sounding they weren’t heard past the general environs of the Sheikh Zayed Road, despite the modern wonder of instant worldwide information sharing.

There was nothing among the copious official press releases popping from the Dubai Racing Club’s dedicated media team to suggest one of Japan’s big hopes was about to be absent with near-fore lameness. In fact, just the day before the horse was withdrawn, an official release had trainer Yasuo Tomomichi saying: “It was a good work and he looked as though he could have gone even faster.”

Spool forward to last Sunday at Sha Tin and we have comments made after Romantic Warrior’s dominant win in the G1 QEII Cup suggesting the horse had been under the weather in the days prior to his previous run.

Trainer Danny Shum’s stable star had been hailed as something special after putting together a brilliant victory in the G1 Hong Kong Cup in December, such that when the G1 Stewards’ Cup rolled around in January, he was the $2.0 favourite against the champion Golden Sixty: the latter won by a length.


Romantic Warrior couldn't match Golden Sixty late in the G1 Stewards' Cup. (Photo by HKJC)

But that was at a mile. When the pair clashed again a month later in the Hong Kong Gold Cup over Romantic Warrior’s pet distance of 2000m, he was the $1.50 favourite against the $2.30 Golden Sixty. Again, he was beaten, albeit by only a head.  

In the lead-up to the Gold Cup, there was no indication in news reports that anything was amiss with the horse, in fact a Hong Kong Jockey Club media release with updates from trainers and stable representatives quoted Shum as saying, “He’s good. He’s happy. There’s been no problems.” Nor was anything put forward in the aftermath, beyond jockey Karis Teetan losing the mount. And, to reiterate, he was beaten only a head by one of Hong Kong’s all-time greats so was clearly in good enough shape to race.

But after the gelding’s impressive QEII Cup win, Shum did what trainers the world over have long done and revealed an unreported health issue in reference to a previous defeat. He was quoted as saying: “Last start, he had a mild fever four or five days before he ran, which made me really worried, but the vets looked after him very well. I think it made his performance drop a little bit.”

Come again? Show me the Hong Kong Jockey Club media release containing that nugget.

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    The HKJC’s website, it must be said, is a treasure trove of information, both wonderful and frustrating, scattered here and there through a maze of pages that take a bit of navigating at first.

    Eagle-eyed users may have been able to decipher that Romantic Warrior had missed a key workout in the lead-up to the race by referring to the extensive records that list every time a horse trots, trials, gallops or swims at Sha Tin or Conghua, including times. Another feature is the ‘Veterinary Records’ page, accessed from each individual horse’s form profile page.

    It is just one of the elements that build the HKJC’s reputation for transparency – well-deserved in many regards – but the ‘Veterinary Records’ can be a red herring, as the Romantic Warrior case highlights.  

    You see, the ‘record’ is far from comprehensive: yes, it tells you when a horse was gelded, if it has had ‘arthroscopic surgery,’ is a ‘roarer’ or had ‘blood in the trachea’ at its last start. But other treatments that can significantly affect performance are missing; like when a horse had its latest cortisone injection to invigorate its joints, or – in the case of Romantic Warrior – that slightly elevated temperature a few days before it raced.

    Similar to the Do Deuce scenario, it seems there were those that knew about the Romantic Warrior situation prior to the Hong Kong Gold Cup, and then the majority, including most punters, that did not.

    Danny Shum's post QEII Cup comments revealed a previously unreported issue for Romantic Warrior. (Photo by Yu Chun Christopher Wong/Getty Images)

    Tokyo Yushun winner Do Deuce was a G1 Dubai Turf withdrawal on race eve. (Photo by JRA)

    Perhaps providing a daily update of horses and their latest health/veterinary situation might not be feasible in the Dubai set-up, and might even be too much to ask when it comes to the day-to-day of Hong Kong’s domestic racing (or perhaps not). But surely not when it comes to Hong Kong’s Group 1 races, particularly the big international events, the Hong Kong International Races and Champions Day.

    The HKJC has the horses in a controlled environment – the internationals in quarantine and the locals in their Sha Tin stables – and could no doubt put a portion of its huge resources to publishing a concise daily update from the vets about how each horse is doing. After all, it should be incumbent upon the all-seeing administrator/regulator such as the HKJC is, rather than the trainer, to make known such information. The trainer’s vet, after all, is an HKJC vet assigned to work with the stable.

    An official daily veterinary report ahead of international Group 1 races at Sha Tin would take the pressure off trainers and travelling grooms confronted by journalists – facing their own pressures to report – asking each day about the horses’ wellbeing. It would also put an end to the ‘jungle drum’ scenario, of the few on the ground knowing but not telling, that undermines the notion of transparency in a multi-billion-dollar concern so reliant on the confidence of customers investing their hard-earned cash.

    At the very least, slap on a disclaimer so that the uninitiated can see that the ‘Veterinary Records’ on the HKJC website is by no means the full picture. 




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