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Remote-Controlled Dart Launchers Target Race Horses

Equestrian Olympics
User ID: 214431
03/26/2007 10:04 AM
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Remote-Controlled Dart Launchers Target Race Horses
What is wrong with people?

Is there a special place in Hell for people who abuse animals?
Is it in China?

Race Horses a Target in Hong Kong
March 26, 2007

HONG KONG:A dozen remote-controlled launching tubes were found secretly buried in the turf at Hong Kong's most famous horse racing track last week, armed with compressed air to fire tiny, liquid-filled darts into the bellies of horses at the starting gate.

No horses were hurt, because the tracks supervisor noticed something underfoot before racing started, discovered the elaborate mechanism concealed by grass-colored tape and called in a police bomb squad to remove it.

But the discovery of the device, equipped with elaborate electronic controls, has raised concerns about security during the six Olympic equestrian events to be held in Hong Kong next year.

Few security experts expect a terrorist incident during the 2008 Olympics. But Hong Kong is a far more open, less-controlled city than Beijing, where most of the Olympic events will be held next year.

The equestrian events will not be held at the 162-year-old Happy Valley Racecourse, where the mysterious device was found, but at Hong Kong's other race track, in Sha Tin, just north of the Kowloon Peninsula.

The Sha Tin site has been closed to the public since July for the construction of special facilities. It will remain closed until the Olympics begin.

"There will be a full lockdown period of the entire Olympic venue" and a thorough police inspection, before the games begin, said Lam Woon-kwong, chief executive of a company set up by the Hong Kong government to organize the Olympics here.

The police officials refused to discuss the mysterious device in Happy Valley, except to say that it was under investigation. One popular theory is that gamblers installed it in an attempt to fix the outcome of races.

The liquid in the darts is being analyzed at a laboratory to determine whether it is a tranquilizer, a lethal poison or something else entirely. A long trench was dug underneath the spot where the starting gate would stand during a race, and the foot-long, or 30-centimeter, launching tubes were placed in the trench and concealed.

Donald Tsang, who was re-elected Sunday as the chief executive of Hong Kong, said in an interview that he believed gamblers were responsible.

"We'll bring these guys to the book," he promised, adding that Olympic events like dressage were far less likely to draw the attention or interest of gamblers.

Tsang tends to be very well informed about police investigations in Hong Kong. He not only heads the territory's government but his brother was the police commissioner until his retirement in 2003, and their father was a police sergeant for many years.

But Stephen Chandler, the executive director of security and corporate legal services at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which manages the city's racetracks and which has been working closely with the police, said that the motives and identity of whoever built the device remain a mystery.

"We've contacted our counterparts around the world - it's never been seen before," said Chandler, who is also a former Hong Kong police official. He declined to speculate further on motives; other theories include terrorism and insurance fraud.

In a sign that the case of the mysterious device in Happy Valley may prove tough to solve, a person close to the investigation said Monday that the police were very likely to offer a reward as soon as Tuesday for information that would help them find the culprits.

Unlike those at most racetracks, the infield at Happy Valley Racecourse is a public park equipped with ballfields and operated by the government.

A public jogging trail lies just inside the track. Three tunnels under the track provide public access.

Soccer balls, badminton birdies and other sports equipment periodically land on the turf, and parkgoers sometimes stray onto it. So Jockey Club officials inspect the track before races are held, typically Wednesday and Saturday.

The track has security cameras, but the trench was dug in a blind spot for the cameras. Chandler said that since the Jockey Club has more than 5,000 full-time employees and nearly 20,000 part-timers, it was possible that someone at the club participated in the scheme.

Video cameras are nearly useless at night in any case because the track is nearly surrounded by apartment towers whose residents object to having the site flood-lit more often than necessary. The club had considered the installation of infrared cameras but decided against it.

Instead, guards have begun patrolling the track with dogs at night since the discovery of the dart-firing device.

Sha Tin Racecourse has a public park in its infield that was closed when construction began last summer. A cleaner found a potentially lethal nail bomb under a seat there in 2001; a 27-year-old electrician later pleaded guilty to putting the bomb there in an attempt to draw government attention to his personal financial difficulties, and was sentenced to five years in prison.

The International Olympic Committee decided at a meeting in Singapore in July 2005 to transfer all six equestrian events from Beijing to Hong Kong. The Beijing Olympic committee had built new stables and planted special fields in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade international veterinary groups that it could protect horses during the Olympics from 17 equine diseases that are endemic in China.

If the events had been held in China, other countries would have required that the costly horses spend months in quarantine before being allowed to return to their home stables. The Olympic committee's decision to transfer the events to Hong Kong attracted little attention at the time because the committee decided at the same meeting to give the 2012 Summer Olympics to London, passing over New York, Paris, Madrid and Moscow.

The six events to be held in Hong Kong are individual and team competitions in dressage, jumping and eventing. For eventing, competitors seek the best combination score for dressage, jumping and cross-country.

Dressage and jumping will be held at Sha Tin Racecourse. The cross-country event will be held at a luxury golf course that already has a high fence around it for security and has few trees inside that could be used for cover for any attacker.

Attacking horses at the Olympics would be much harder because the riders have considerable choice about where their horses should stand at the start of each event. "Greater variability makes it a harder target," Chandler said.

[link to www.iht.com]