Why it would be dangerous for race leaders to put the doping issue on the back burner | Horse racing news

John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)

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Ladies First: tested positive for beta-blocker Timolol

John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)

By Chris Cook, Senior Reporter

The Front Runner is Chris Cook’s morning email exclusively for Member’s Club Ultimate subscribers, available here as a free sample.

In Monday’s email, Chris writes about doping and racing stable safety – and subscribers can get more information, advice and discussion about Chris’ races Monday through Friday.

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The Front Runner has reassuring news and troubling thoughts to share as substantive conversations continue on the topics of doping and racetrack safety, following the recent verdict in the Ladies First case. What is reassuring, and only slightly reassuring, is that officials believe the activities of the two dopes involved in this case were contained, not expanded.

This is a problem as the duo, named by the BHA as Neil Waggot and Stephen Walker, were employed by Newcastle Racecourse to work in the stables area and needed access to riders on very many days race. They were caught because Ladies First tested positive for the beta-blocker Timolol, leading to a review of CCTV footage, which showed them approaching her despite having no no reason to do so and apparently give him something.

Were they unlucky enough to be caught? I wouldn’t say that. The test carried out by Ladies First that day was one of 9,909 race tests carried out by the BHA in 2018, an average of nearly one per race.

Disappointing favorites are often tested on the track, for obvious reasons. If you’re a dope who’s a little cavalier about getting caught on CCTV, you’ll need to be foolhardy enough to expect to be able to keep getting away with the same MO for a long time.

But the problem arises because James Bethell was in touch, following my Friday article, to share his concerns about Briardale, a horse he trained which flopped at Newcastle in June 2017. A month earlier, Briardale had won the Zetland Gold Cup by six lengths, the best race of his life, and he had won at Newcastle a month before, but this time he was beaten two furlongs and trailed home last with the jockey signaling that something was wrong.

“It took him years to get back to the kind of shape where he could win a race,” Bethell reports. Naturally enough, in light of the Ladies First story, he is very concerned that his horse may have been taken in by the Newcastle stables.

The BHA says it heard from Bethell about it in 2018 and investigated. “We are convinced that Briardale was not doped,” they tell me, although the basis of their confidence is not specified.

On the broader issue of doping, they add: “There is a significant intelligence background throughout the investigation which gives us reason to believe that Waggot and Walker did not act in this manner for an extended period of time. The investigation took into account other horses and other tests took place, the results of which were negative for Timolol.

In sum, the BHA urges us to accept that Ladies First (with Victoriano, nobled the same day) was likely an isolated incident rather than the time when serial dopers were finally caught. “Ladies First’s case came to light through testing,” they say. “We regularly test disappointing favourites. If there had been a flurry of activity in this direction, it is likely that testing or betting records would have identified the problem. However, there is no evidence that this is the case. “

Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

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Hughie Morrison: Told by BHA Southwell footage had been reviewed and showed nothing

Hughie Morrison: Told by BHA Southwell footage had been reviewed and showed nothing

Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

But it’s time to reflect once again on another troubling case, that of Our Little Sister, who tested positive for an anabolic steroid in mid-January 2017, following which her trainer Hughie Morrison passed this that year worrying that his license was in danger before. a disciplinary committee concluded that he was not responsible for the injection that must have taken place.

This case also involved racetrack security and CCTV coverage issues, as Morrison suspected Our Little Sister may have been stung while waiting to race at Southwell around two weeks before her positive test. By the time the BHA asked Southwell for CCTV footage of this fixture in late March, it was no longer available.

Worse still, the BHA then told Morrison that the footage of Southwell had been reviewed and showed nothing. This was later corrected and blame was placed on a communication confusion between staff.

In any case, I felt at the time a general feeling of reluctance to believe that the Southwell footage would in fact have shown anything significant. It was certainly a missing piece in a confusing puzzle, but observers seemed unconvinced that, had it been found, then the whole picture would make sense. Racecourse stables were considered secure.

The Ladies First case changes that. Now we know that security is not strict enough to prevent horses from being doped by people who have nothing to do with them, and that the presence of cameras is not enough to deter dopers.

This is something we need to hear from the regulator on how things can be improved and similar cases avoided. But now is not the perfect time for the BHA to pay attention to such a topic, with the whip’s review nearing a conclusion, the changes to the weight regime proving more controversial than expected, an official response to the still-awaited Freddy Tylicki court verdict. and continued behind-the-scenes discussions about how the sport’s governance structure could be changed, not to mention the potential impact of the impending gambling overhaul. Hopefully someone is still available to worry about future funding.

The leaders of Racing have a lot of pots boiling. But putting this subject on the back burner would be dangerous.


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The Front Runner is our latest email newsletter available exclusively to Member’s Club Ultimate subscribers. Four-time Racing Reporter of the Year award winner Chris Cook offers his thoughts on the day’s biggest stories and advice for the race ahead every Monday-Friday morning


FIRST PUBLICATION AT 10:00 AM, FEBRUARY 7, 2022

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