Poison darts found at Hong Kong racetrack
Police in Hong Kong are investigating what appears to be an attempt to shoot horses with poisoned darts at one of the world's most famous racetracks.
Staff at the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club's Happy Valley track uncovered the bizarre plot after discovering 12 metal tubes, each a foot long, filled with darts and buried in the turf near the starting gates. The tubes were wired together and linked to a wireless receiver.
It is believed they could have been shot into specific horses and their jockeys to affect the outcome of a race.
"It's bizarre, quite bizarre," said a horse trainer with several years' experience at the Hong Kong track. "It's like the plot of a Dick Francis novel."
"The strange part is that when we raced [on Wednesday] night, we saw these bomb disposal guys leaving the track and then saw nothing more of them and just started the races as usual," the trainer told the Guardian.
The drama began soon after the early morning training sessions, a feature of Hong Kong life for at least 150 years.
Jackson Wong Chak-shuen, a Jockey Club track supervisor, went out as usual to inspect the track.
"I was doing my checking of the track routinely, when I noticed something unusual, buried in the ground," Mr Wong told reporters.
"After inspecting it briefly, I called my supervisor and he in turn called in security and, eventually, the police as well. We were able to trace leads from the device that led to a battery."
Police and club officials began searching the grounds. Bomb disposal experts pronounced the devices safe by 4.20pm. When metal detectors made no further discoveries, the races went ahead on schedule at 7.30pm.
The club's chief executive, Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, said the darts could have been fired at all 12 horses on the track at the same time. He said they appeared designed "to cause destruction and injury".
"I've raced all my life and have never seen such a thing. This was a professional job - it must have taken two or three hours to cut the groove across the track to insert these cylinders. It's unprecedented, it's unheard of."
What has shocked racegoers is that the Hong Kong racing scene is one of the most highly regulated in the world.
"You might expect this in Sicily or something, but here? This place has cameras everywhere, it's the most secure track in the world," said a foreign businessman who owns a horse that races in Happy Valley.
Part of the mystique of the jockey club is not just the huge amount of money it makes - and the HK$1bn (£65m) it distributes to charity each year - but its role at the heart of Hong Kong life since the colony's first leaders drained the malarial swamp in Happy Valley in 1841.
The club is the largest single taxpayer in Hong Kong. It paid HK$12.4bn in 2005-06 - about 8.6% of all taxes collected by the government - on turnover of HK$98.9bn.
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