Racing needs a collective will worldwide to stamp out drug abuse
27 June 2014
The BHA announced on Thursday that they were adopting a zero tolerance policy when it comes to Anabolic Steroids. This is an important development in the fight against the dopers. One method employed by those looking to dope in the past would almost certainly have involved the administration of steroids away from licensed premises. Thus spot checks at a yard could be easily circumvented by the cheats because the steroids were being administered to horses who were off the premises and at the time out of training. Now under the new zero tolerance rules horses must be registered and then can be subject to testing anywhere whether they are on licensed property or not. In effect a loophole has been closed. This does not mean it will be a fail safe method of stopping the cheats, far from it but it is certainly a significant deterrent.
In adopting a zero tolerance policy the BHA is taking the fight against steroid abuse a step further than the recommended International Horse Federation guidelines which still allow for therapeutic steroidal use. This shows I believe a deep commitment on behalf of the BHA to stamp out the type of problems that the Gerard Butler case threw up. Their motivation for this robust approach is I hope based on Horse Welfare grounds rather than a fear of the bad press that may emanate from anther Zarooni case. Either way horse welfare is going to be best served by this policy.
The problem with stamping out the use of illegal drugs in Horseracing or any sport are multi - faceted. There will always be those who believe that the cheats are simply one step ahead of the testers. I suspect this is the case, but as was outlined at the Asian Racing conference in May the testers are much more sophisticated than they used to be and the science that they use is cutting edge. As was outlined at the conference, we have the science to beat the bad boys but the barriers to doing so are more political, human and financial than anything else.
Political issues are hard to identify but it is obvious that whilst every country except America wants to be cleaner than the next it also wants the best racing, accomodating the fastest horses and thus there is an element of "after you sir" involved which is why the BHA' s stance is so commendable.
Human issues are somewhat spurious but can perhaps be labelled as cultural. We need to work towards a situation where those involved with racehorses do not contemplate using performance enhancing drugs and that is probably an impossible utopia because as in any elite sport where the prize associated with winning at any cost is so vast, the risk is perceived as being worth taking. Perhaps even more draconian sanctions would go some way to changing the culture.
The big problem though is finance. Quite simply to run a clean sport where horses are constantly being tested and trainers are being monitored costs a lot of money but even more costly is the science. As the dopers become more sophisticated we need to develop the science to keep up with them. We need to be able to identify the new drugs that are being used, we need comprehensive tests to keep with them and as with the development of a drug in human medicine this costs a fortune.
Thus a zero tolerance policy is admirable. A great starting point but with such a policy comes a commitment to political harmonisation, cultural change and above all the constant and costly development of cutting edge science, Zero tolerance is where we want to be and we will be from 2015 but with it comes an all pervasive commitment that is founded in horse welfare. There needs to be a collective will worldwide to stamp out drug abuse and until the United States of America comes on board with that idea the sport will always have the spectre of drugs hanging over it.
After Royal Ascot last week I was going to sit down and review all the racing in endless detail. After such a busy week everything seems to be such a blur now, but then I decided to simply ask myself to sit back and think about the meeting and see which horse made it into my conciousness more often than any other and as I sat in my local enjoying a pint there was only one horse that kept coming back to me time and time again, pint after pint and his name was Telescope.
Last year he ran a speed figure at Leicester that told us he was a Group 1 horse, since then he has not been so good for various reasons. At Ascot he proved that the Leicester figure was spot on. He is a Group 1 horse and when he gets a strong gallop on fast ground at 12 furlongs he is top class. All the hype that surrounded him throughout his career was born out of what he had been doing at home and finally since Leicester he has delivered on the track.
As I ordered another pint the football was on in my local and one fellow was talking about Wayne Rooney saying he was not fit to wear the shirt, I was not tempted to sing along as Wayne has received a ridiculous amount of criticism during the World Cup but hearing them use that phrase started a merry litle tune in my head to which I found the words;
Are you Harbinger in disguise ... repeat every day until the King George!
My only selection for Saturday is in the 3.30 at Newmarket. He ran well on his return at Epsom where he chased a strong pace and got tired. he always needs a run to put him spot on and hails from the in-form John Gosden yard. He will strip fitter today and importantly gets to run here unpenalised for his Group success last year. He has been found a good spot by his trainer and should be backed to win.
Angus McNae's Saturday Selection