Godolphin doping scandal continues…

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Following on from the initial scandalous revelations from the Godolphin stable (see post here), the fallout has continued.  Here’s a brief update with results of further tests revealed yesterday.

The original story had 11 horses testing positive for banned steroids and the trainer (subsequently banned for eight years) admitting to have doped a further four.  The trainer, Mahmood Al Zarooni, has lodged an appeal against his sentence  deeming it too harsh.  In the days following his admission lots of stories were leaked around how the drugs were administered and procured for the horses.  Initially he received some sympathy based on the potential for confusion as there are not unified rules around steroid use in other parts of the world.  It was then reported Al Zarooni had brought the drugs in his luggage from the middle east and given them to a stable hand through his car window in unmarked syringes.  This didn’t really fit with the story of someone believing he had nothing to hide.  The drugs were also not recorded in the horses’ vet books.

Yesterday the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced the completion of further tests commissioned following the breaking scandal. Over the past month they have tested 391 horses from Godolphin’s Newmarket stables and announced a further seven of them had failed tests.  All of these horses were also found to have been given stanozolol, the same as previous horses.  The Godolphin stable has until 23rd May to have the ‘B’ samples tested for these horses or face an 6 month ban for each.

The most famous of the horses tested this time is named Encke, who last year won the oldest of horse racing’s Classic races – the St Leger. This was an outside victory and prevented another horse, Camelot, from completing a very rare triple crown of classic wins (not seen in 40 years).  In the last few hours BHA has declared there is no reason to strip Encke of this win as it was tested and found to be negative before and after the St Leger.  The BHA also explained that the samples from the St Leger in September could not be re-tested as they are destroyed seven days after being found negative.

Where does this leave horseracing and Godolphin?

Well it isn’t just Godolphin –  another stable has also been found to be using stanozolol, imported from Italy under the brand name ‘Sungate’. The trainer Gerard Butler has said he was given it initially by a vet.  The BHA are investigating this.

The future for Godolphin is less certain.  The horses at Newmarket currently do not have a trainer – which means they cannot be entered into races.  Godolphin do have other stables but the horses would have to be transfered there.  They have applied for a BHA license for another of their trainers to take over this yard, which I am sure the BHA are scrutinising thoroughly!

For testing in training the BHA would seem to have to really up their game.  Last year 6-700 horses were tested in training. Ove the past few weeks Godolphin had 391 tests from their horses, plus the other horses previously tested, means they have over 400 horses alone.  According to BHA statistics there are approximately 14,000 horses in training currently based at 825 yards.  This means that at most 5 % of UK based horses were tested in training last year.  It appears to be slightly targetted with whole yards being sampled, meaning actually very few ‘missions’ could be used to make 600 tests.

There does seem to be a need to have global rules agreed for horses – much like the WADA code for humans (more on them coming this week!).  As explained in the comments last week the use of stanozolol in training would be fine in some US states, Australia and Dubai amongst others.  The use of anabolic steroids in training and then racing clean will give a large advantage to that horse – so horses trained overseas could compete in the UK at a big advantage over horses based here all year round.

Let’s hope the BHA and world wide horseracing authorities can get hold of this problem and sort it out.


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About Dr Tom Bassindale

Dr Tom Bassindale is a forensic scientist, and the founder of We Are Forensic. He is currently the subject lead for chemistry and forensic science at Sheffield Hallam University. He's managed hundreds of forensic toxicology cases, and is an experienced court witness. He has specialist expertise in forensic toxicology and drug testing in sport. And yes... he watches CSI.