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Angus McNae

Angus McNae - Saturday 27th April 2013

Al Zarooni case may just be the beginning.

Mahmood Al Zarooni has rightly been given what is effectively a career-ending disqualification after overseeing the administration of anabolic steroids to 15 horses in his care.

Whether this was an innocent mistake or a deliberate flaunting of the regulations is something that only Al Zarooni will know. What we know is that even though the dividing line between a careless and a reckless act sometimes defies definition, he can surely have no complaints about the punishment he has received.

What has happened this week has been catastrophic in terms of PR for our sport, but lets leave the Al Zarooni bubble and consider the wider implications.

If Al Zarooni was prepared to administer performance-enhancing drugs given all that he had to lose, surely there are others who are at it lower down the food chain who consider the risk worth taking?

On reflection of the Al Zarooni case, it is likely anabolic steroids are to be in use out of competition. This is wholly unsatisfactory because in terms of muscle mass and condition they could return a very different animal to the one that left the yard. A system that polices horses out of competition would be impossible to implement, but let's remember that negative tests in competition do not mean that a horse has always been clean.

Thirdly, anabolic steroids are not the only drugs out there. What about EPO or growth hormone? As we know from other sports the list will always be endless because the cheats are always looking to stay ahead of the testers.

Ten to 15 years ago America was rife with drug use, which to some degree hid behind the mask of the anti-bleeding drug Lasix. The authorities struggled to get to grips with the cheats as racing in America became a free-for-all. Now things are very different, the authorities in different states have begun to think collectively and have a pot at the end of the rainbow marked "drug-free racing" and they are working vigorously to get to that pot.

We would be naive to believe that the Al Zarooni episode is an isolated one and thus drug use is not a problem in our country. Paul Bittar admitted the Godolphin doping saga was unlikely to be the last case the BHA are called in for when I interviewed him at Sandown yesterday.
America did that and the drugs flowed freely. Al Zarooni has been caught and punished but what we have seen this week may just be the beginning.

The BHA has fired a serious message to the racing world about its policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the UK but that message needs to be consistently re-inforced. The testers must not rest on their laurels because they will always be those who seek to stay a step ahead.

Quite simply I believe that this episode has highlighted a problem in our sport, the extent of which is unknown, and it is that uncertainty that makes us all very uncomfortable and comfort will only be found in a continuing, enhanced and rigorous testing regime.

 

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