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A Sad Day For Horse Racing
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A Sad Day For Horse Racing

It is a sad fact that very few sports today are left untainted by doping. In recent years a depressingly high number of sporting superstars whose performance has seen them rise to the very top of their chosen sport have been exposed as "drugs cheats", and now it seems that the very top echelons of horse racing are to be similarly blighted.

Mahmood Al Zarooni, trainer for the mighty Godolphin stable, today faces the potential loss of his trainer's licence following the sensational revelation that prohibited substances have been detected in samples taken from no fewer than 11 of the horses in his care during random testing by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) in April of this year. This is not the first time a trainer has been caught administering banned substances to the horses in his charge, but Mr Al Zarooni is surely the most high profile to date.

The drugs in question have been identified as ethylestranol and stanozolol. Both are anabolic steroids designed to increase muscle growth and development; improve red blood cell production and blood circulation especially to the legs and feet, to improve exercise tolerance and to increase bone density. Ethylestranol has the added advantage from a "doping" perspective that it is rapidly excreted from the horse's system making it harder to detect during random testing.

Mr Al Zarooni has fallen on his sword and accepted full responsibility for the administration of the drugs, saying that he is guilty of a "catastrophic error of judgement." In his defence, he has stated that the drugs were given to horses which were just in training and not actually racing, however the BHA said that the tests were carried out following two positive tests from Al Zarooni trained horses in the preceding 12 months and it is therefore to be assumed that these animals were racing at the time. It is perhaps noteworthy that 2012 was Godolphin's most successful year on the track to date; the jewel in the crown being their success in the world's richest race; the Dubai World Cup.

All the horses which tested positive have been suspended from running for the foreseeable future whilst further investigations are carried out by the BHA.

Godolphin is owned by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, the Prime Minister and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates, and constitutional monarch of Dubai for whom this incident is acutely embarrassing particularly as the Sheikh takes a very close interest in his horses. He is said to be "appalled" and an immediate internal investigation of the practices at Godolphin is now underway.

The wider implications of the scandal are extremely concerning for international horse racing. Sheikh Mohammed is one of the world's most prolific trainers and breeders with horses both in training and standing at stud in the United States and Australia as well as Europe, Japan and Ireland and over the past two decades has invested massively in the industry worldwide and especially in the UK.

The ramifications of today's revelations spread much wider than just the effect they might have on certain race results. Top racehorses have a relatively short career on the track before being retired to stud duties. Wealthy owners will often pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to have their mares put in foal to a winner of multiple prestigious races in the hope that his progeny will carry his natural ability in their genes. Indeed, the international multi-million dollar bloodstock industry is built around generations of carefully constructed thoroughbred bloodlines. Some of those owners must surely now be wondering if they have invested in a tainted commodity whose performance was not entirely due to his natural ability. Is the stud book now skewed forever?

Unfortunately, as with every sport where such vast sums of money in sponsorship and corporate investment are involved, there will always be the temptation to enhance natural performance by artificial means. Unlike tennis, swimming, cycling and athletics however, racehorses are unable to make a choice. We can only applaud the international governing bodies of the sport of horse racing in their diligence and hope that this high profile scandal serves as due warning to others who might be tempted.

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  1. Chestnut Mare
    Chestnut Mare
    Voted. A very well-written article. I have to say, I am not at all surprised at this, given that horse-racing is generally completely unethical! God knows what those drugs do to the poor horses. They don't take them willingly, unlike human sportsmen/women who cheat like that!
    Log in to reply.
    1. autumnap
      autumnap
      Thank you. Yes, it's frightening really and I bet it's just the tip of the iceberg too. It just happens that this is a high profile stable with a massive financial stake in the industry and hence grabs a bucket load of publicity. The obvious question is who else was aware and complicit in the doping? Who supplied the drugs and who actually administered them to the horses involved? What a sad, grubby, greedy little world we live in huh? x
      Log in to reply.
      1. carolj418
        It is so very sad and makes a great sport look bad!
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    2. carolj418
      It is so sad that they go that far when they have wonderful animals that would perform without the drugs. I am an x trainer and loved to out run the stables that I knew were using drugs with my clean horses.
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  2. jst4horses
    I would like to see people just realize the beauty and majesty of these animals. Maybe no races more than 3/4 of a mile, and do away with those horrible two year old races. So many horse broken down and destroyed. "winning" to me is such a joke. There is no winning when it is all just a detestable animal abuse and even human abuse game for the super rich. Now poor people have illegal racing all over and leave broken down and suffering horses to fend for themselves. What a mess.
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  3. jst4horses
    I would like to see people just realize the beauty and majesty of these animals. Maybe no races more than 3/4 of a mile, and do away with those horrible two year old races. So many horse broken down and destroyed. "winning" to me is such a joke. There is no winning when it is all just a detestable animal abuse and even human abuse game for the super rich. Now poor people have illegal racing all over and leave broken down and suffering horses to fend for themselves. What a mess.
    Log in to reply.
    1. Chestnut Mare
      Chestnut Mare
      100% agree jst4horses!
      Log in to reply.
    2. carolj418
      I agree that we do not need 2 yo races - it ruins so many nice horses. But the long races are not bad for horses that are bred to go that far - many horses do not get warmed up for over half a mile and they don't actually "run" til the end of the race. I love those come from behind horses - I had a horse that would be so far back that you could not dream that he could win the race and would kick it in gear and fly by the rest of the field. These horses love to run and do not need drugs to do it.
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