Thumbs Down, Down Under - by Dan Liebman

Air travel has made the breeding, racing, buying, and selling of Thoroughbreds an international endeavor.

Decades ago, it allowed stallions to be imported and exported, forever changing pedigrees across continents. A few brave horsemen began shipping to the first international races, and as such paved the way for events like the Breeders’ Cup, Arlington Million, Dubai World Cup, and Hong Kong International Races.

There are trainers with stables in multiple countries, jockeys who ride in numerous jurisdictions, and stallions that stand both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere breeding seasons.

As racing and breeding have become more global enterprises, authorities have collaborated on many issues to protect the integrity of all jurisdictions. Which makes two recent actions in Australia all the more curious.

First, officials with Racing New South Wales thumbed their collective noses at the Hong Kong Jockey Club by not upholding the length of a suspension handed to jockey Chris Munce. The Hong Kong stewards suspended Munce, found to have breached the rules there in a “tips for bets” scandal, for 30 months, his penalty to end Sept. 1, 2009.

The 39-year-old jockey, who was born in New South Wales, was arrested in July 2006 and found to have HK$250,000 and pieces of paper allegedly filled with notations about wagering in his pockets. Charged with providing tips to a local businessman between December 2005 and May 2006, Munce was found guilty and served 20 months in jail in Hong Kong and Australia, and was released Oct. 30.

Following his release, the Hong Kong Jockey Club leveled 36 charges against Munce, to which he pled guilty. The rub came when Racing New South Wales reciprocated on 35 charges, its belief being the 36th charge was related to a breach of Hong Kong’s criminal code that it claims does not exist under Australian law.

In a strongly worded release, Hong Kong Jockey Club chief executive officer Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, noting Munce did not appeal the ruling by the Hong Kong stewards, called the decision by the New South Wales officials “disrespectful to the core value of due process.”

Engelbrecht-Bresges pointed out that both Hong Kong and the Australian Racing Board are signatories to the International Agreement on Breeding, Racing and Wagering, which is article 10 of the rules agreed to by members of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.

Incredibly, New South Wales officials argue they are not a party to the agreement.

Even if the two authorities do not agree on whether or not the criminal code applies in New South Wales, racing authorities, be they in countries, provinces, or states, should honor suspensions through the principle of reciprocity.

Engelbrecht-Bresges stated in the release the decision by the New South Wales officials “threatens the relationship between Australia and Hong Kong.” Considering Australian jockeys and trainers work in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Jockey Club buys horses in Australia, that statement cannot be welcome news Down Under.

The same week in Australia, it was announced Melbourne Cup (Aust-I) runner-up Bauer would not be disqualified despite proof the horse received shockwave therapy within seven days of the race, which violates the country’s rules of racing.

British trainer Luca Cumani was unaware of the rule, and the horse was treated by a veterinarian employed by the Racing Victoria club. In the ruling, the chief steward stated that because the actions were taken by a veterinarian assigned by Racing Victoria, who should have been aware of the rules, the rule could not be applied.

The correct action should have been to fine and/or suspend the veterinarian, disqualify the horse, and redistribute the purse.

In 2006, Brass Hat finished second in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), but was disqualified for a medication positive, despite the fact the trainer administered the drug according to withdrawal guidelines provided him by the Emirates Racing Association.

Brass Hat was properly disqualified; Bauer should have been as well.

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