A coroner has urged the Hong Kong Jockey Club to arrange an on-site ambulance at its stables during the summer off-season, after concluding an inquest into the death of a rider who was thrown from a horse in training.
On Wednesday, coroner Philip Wong Wai-kuen ruled that the death of former apprentice jockey John Mok Chun-wa, 39, who was dislodged from his horse while trotting at a stable at the Sha Tin Racecourse on July 17 last year, was an accident.
Mok died of traumatic brain injuries after falling backwards and hitting his head on the ground. Security camera footage showed his horse suddenly became unsettled and unseated him at around 6am.
The Coroner’s Court heard Mok was “completely unconscious” by the time he was rushed to Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin, and the damage to his brain was beyond repair. He was declared brain-dead in hospital the following day.
Wong found that it was “relatively likely” the animal was startled by the sudden reaction of another horse on the sideline. The other horse ran off after being washed by a stable assistant trainee.
Wong advised the club to avoid bathing horses in the sand yard’s vicinity when riders were trotting, saying the animals were sensitive and their movement could be hard to predict.
During the inquest, lawyers acting for Mok’s widow Chung Cheuk-ching said the lack of emergency measures available on the day may have delayed the rider’s treatment. The court heard that there had been no ambulance on standby as it was the summer off-season.
Wong said that even for a seasoned rider such as Mok, accidents could happen when horses suddenly went out of control. Given the size of the racecourse and the time required for outside medical help to reach the stable, an on-site ambulance would be more efficient, and should not add to the club’s financial burden even if emergency services were to cover off-season periods, he said.
“[Medical treatment] is a race against time. One extra minute could save an extra life,” Wong added. “A first aid box cannot replace a certified first aider.”
Wong also offered deep condolences to Chung and praised her decision to donate her husband’s organs to save the lives of others.
In response, the club said in a statement it reacted “immediately” after the accident, which included extending emergency service hours in the stables area to cover off-season times. It also pledged to minimise the risk of horses running in the sand yard being affected by other activities.