It’s really important for the sport that people should know that the “conviction” of Mahmood Al Zarooni for using anabolic steroids to “improve” horses is untypical – or should we?. The main story should be that the BHA was able to tackle perhaps the most important worldwide horse racing operation, notwithstanding the potential consequences. I tweeted a few months ago that I was very disappointed that the Breeders’ Cup organisers had decided to resile from their decision to ban doping of horses (albeit by “less harmful” drugs), save for 2-y-os, at the behest of US trainers for whom this is standard behaviour. Incidentally UK expat Graham Motion, a US based staunch opponent of drugs who has achieved fantastic results in the US, brings his drug free Animal Kingdom to Royal Ascot as the highlight horse of the meeting and 100% credit to him for that.
The Darley (for which read Godolphin) representative resigned in protest from the Breeders’ Cup committee and we’ve known for some time that their races are, by definition of the qualifying rules, unequal and will now remain so. Some European trainers have taken the Lasix (an anti bleeding drug only prevented from being administered on race day) option in the last few years. Others have taken the view that their horses could not compete fairly because of the drug advantage. Some horses have won notwithstanding the absence of Lasix and deserve all the more credit for that.
Zarooni is reported as having said that he didn’t know that administering steroids to horses in training (as opposed to when running) was banned. On that ground alone (if true) he should not have been a trainer in the UK. Further, it’s hardly likely that he happened to have some handy steroids in his pocket so the suggestion that it was all down to him is nonsense. The systematic drugging of 15 horses requires at least the active participation of a vet.
And that brings us on to Mr Nicky Henderson. With far less media coverage (today’s events were the lead story on Radio 5 as I was listening this evening and were all over the media – including the BBC Ten O’Clock News a few days ago) he was banned for three months and fined £40,000 for using tranexamic acid, a drug which encourages clotting and minimises bleeding (not unlike Lasix) and this weekend he’s about to be confirmed as champion National Hunt trainer for 2012-2013. Blogger Daniel Kelly was bravely given national media recognition by Guardian racing journalist Greg Wood whose coverage of this (he tweeted that he hadn’t seen a horse in Ireland while over there for Punchestown because of this) has been impeccable.
HH Sheikh Mohammed is ruler of Dubai, vice president of UAE, owner of Godophin and a close friend of the Queen (he recently made a gift to her of Carlton House – a live Derby contender). He’s also someone who was caught for doping an endurance horse (a popular sport in the Middle East). It was particularly embarrassing for his (junior) wife, Princess Haya (one of an estimated six wives and reportedly 23 children). She was elected to the Fédération Equestre Internationale in 2006 on a ticket which promoted a clean sport and they recruited Lord Stephens, former Metropolitan Commissioner, to beef up security.
There is another problem. The general view from many of my Twitter followers that anabolic steroids are not banned, out of training, in Australia. Godolphin/Darley has a similarly dominant operation but there the use of steroids is no big deal. So what’s the point of a worldwide ban when, according to Australian rules, he’s done nothing wrong?
I urge you to read Daniel Kelly’s blog (linked above) and then make your own mind up. Are you going to bet on horses after this?