Angus McNae
Angus McNae's Racing UK Blog
Saturday 26th July 2014
Racing UK - 1 Channel - 3 Devices - 1 Price - Racing UK

The morphine horses should not run until we know what happened

After 10 days or so of a camping holiday with my family I am pleased to return on such an important weekend.

Before I get my Telescope out and analyse the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes I feel that the most recent drugs problem to hit the sport needs addressing.

As I write seven horses have tested positive for morphine, which is a banned substance. The drug is an analgesic opiate and can be tested in racehorses with two micrograms per millilitre in urine samples.

This is a minuscule amount and virtually equates to zero tolerance.

It is important to understand that a horse could be positive in a post-race sample despite possessing a truly insignificant amount of morphine in its system.

Nonetheless morphine is such a powerful painkiller, that it needs to have low tolerance levels attached to it to discourage any use.

The important question is how morphine got into these horses’ systems?

Was it purposefully administered with the intention of causing pain relief in a race, and thus improving performance? Did it somehow find its way into the horses’ system in a natural way? A third possibility is that it was administered in training, which is allowed and not all of it had left the horses’ systems come race day.

These are the questions that need answering. At the moment the most plausible and likely explanation is that contaminated feed caused these horses to have small levels of morphine in the system. Given that morphine is an opiate this is entirely plausible, but as yet unproven. If this is indeed the case we have no scandal.

It would seem unlikely that the drug was administered purposefully to improve performance. It is hard to believe that in the wake of the Mahmood Al Zarooni and Gerard Butler scandals that anybody would be so foolish and naive. Maybe one horse, possibly two, but four or five instances, and all at the same time, seems unlikely.

We also have a scandal if horses had been administered with morphine, and then ran before it had left their system. All drugs take a certain amount of time to leave the system and vets will know how long individual drugs take.

At this stage we are also unaware of whether we are dealing with pure morphine or a derivative (it exists under 100 different trade names).

Whatever dose of morphine it is, the way the drug can work nefariously is that if a horse cannot feel its pain, it is more likley to run faster.

Dermorphin, colloquially it is known as frog juice, is 40 times more powerful than morphine.

It is an extract drawn from the backs of a type of South American frog and in 2012 the New York Times reported that it was being used as a performance enhancer in America.

It took a while for the authorities to discover a test sensitive enough to detect it, and once they did numerous positive samples were found. 

What does all of this lack of information add up to?

Quite simply I think it means that until the whole matter is cleared up, surely none of the horses that have tested positive so far should be allowed to run. If they are allowed to compete, then we need conclusive proof that their positive samples were not in any way collected due to intended administration. They also need to be tested before they run.

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The King George this year is a fantastic race.

I have always been a massive fan of Telescope ever since his brilliant performance at Leicester in a Conditions race over 10 furlongs last year. He ran a speed figure there which suggested he was a genuine Group One performer and it was not until the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot that he got the conditions that enabled him to perform to a similar level again.

Those conditions are a strongly-run mile and a half on fast ground. His win in that race marked him out as being a very strong stayer and a strongly run race will see him perform at his optimum again on Saturday.

Some believe he has always been a hype horse until Royal Ascot. Nonsense. The substance was there when he won at Leicester, and I believe he will win the King George and prove today just how good he is.

In terms of dangers, well they lurk everywhere. For me the number one opponent is Magician, who ran a blinder at Royal Ascot behind The Fugue and has the fast ground he craves. The proven form at the track of Telescope and Magician should not be underestimated.

Mukhadram ran a big figure in the Coral Eclipse a few weeks ago and if we could be certain he stays 12 furlongs would be a danger. Taghrooda gets all the allowances and was brilliant in winning the Oaks last month.

She will be a popular choice, but having just had three runs, and all against her own sex, she now has a bit to prove against colts.

Romsdal is the other I think will run well and William Buick may have chosen the wrong one in opting for Eagle Top, whose win at Royal Ascot was courtesy of an overly strong early pace.

Romsdal looks set to run well, given his performance in the Derby, and do not be surprised if he makes the frame at a big price.

My other selection is Osaila in the Princess Margaret Stakes. This horse was impressive in a fast time at Doncaster and can step up again for Richard Hannon and Frankie Dettori.

Angus McNae's Saturday tips:

2.05 Ascot: Osaila at 9-4 with SkyBet

3.50 Ascot: Telescope at 11-4 with Betfair Sportsbook