Thursday 22 February 2018

Rachel Wyse: Racing's credibility on line over lack of doping transparency

So long as detail on testing is in short supply, rumours will rumble on – but will authorities address the issue and bring more openness?

Trainer Gerard Butler
Trainer Gerard Butler

Rachel Wyse

Are those who know contentment in life those wishing for tomorrow? I suspect not. They are busy enjoying today. When tomorrow comes they will enjoy that too. Looking forward, wishing time away, is a tragedy. A sorry indictment of poor decisions.

Everyone is faced with choices, we don't just suddenly find ourselves in positions we long to see pass. The option is always there to do right or wrong. When people try to rationalise their longing for new days, only then do they realise this fact.

The feeling of knowing you've cheated yourself. The sense of waste, of not being true to yourself. Knowing you can't turn back and start again. It gnaws at you. Living with such feelings is the greatest punishment of all. There is no escape route. Those feelings must be carried forever. Sentences can be served and boxes ticked. Tangible punishments are manageable. The day will come when such hardships are just a memory. That's the easy bit.

Gerard Butler may not agree but perspective might change everything. Right now he probably can't see past his five-year sentence. On Wednesday he was the latest racehorse trainer found guilty of administering illegal substances to horses in his care and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) showed little mercy.

Butler was seemingly inconsolable after the verdict. On December 4, 2018 Butler will be entitled to hold a licence once again. Already I suspect he is a man wishing time away.

This latest high-profile case involving a UK-based trainer follows just seven months after Godolphin trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni was disqualified after Sheikh Mohammed-owned horses in his care were found to have been doped. Questions are being asked as to how widespread such behaviour is.

The initial details of Butler's wrong-doings first came to light around the time Al Zarooni was sanctioned. The manner in which the Godolphin case was dealt and the severity of punishment frightened many people.


Butler, it would appear, was one of them. As information emerged to confirm BHA vets had found traces of illegal steroids in a number of his horses, Butler went public declaring Sungate, an anabolic steroid, was widely used in Newmarket.

Butler claimed he knew of numerous trainers using the substance and, alarmingly, they did so with the knowledge and advice of registered veterinary practitioners. His claims are sensational. The substance of Butler's opinion has never been vindicated.

The BHA confirmed no disciplinary action would be taken. If illegal steroids were used on a widespread basis in Newmarket, any traces were long gone by the time the authorities followed up Butler's public uttering's.

The cynics believe Butler's motivea in going public were all about self-preservation. He knew some of his horses had tested positive and claimed his actions were replicated by numerous fellow trainers.

It's difficult to contradict those who doubt Butler's motives. You can't credibly argue his public confession was for the good of the sport. The moment one of his horses tested positive, such an avenue was no longer accessible to him.

So why, if he was using a substance he claims was abused on a widespread basis, did he receive a ban of five years? In his public statement, Butler chose to omit serious details of his misdemeanours. A BHA investigation has revealed the specifics of his wrongdoings and they surpass the use of Sungate. It transpired that Butler sourced and used an unlicensed stanozolol-based product called Rexogin on four of his horses .

In animals, the drug is used to improve muscle growth and red blood cell production and increase bone density. He administered the drug himself, injecting it into fetlocks and knees, all the time using junior members of staff to hold the horses. Butler paid for the substance privately and no record of the cost passed through the business as a deductible expense.

In the BHA's view: "Butler's actions were an appalling breach of his duty to look after the interests of the horses in his care and amounted to conduct that was seriously prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of horseracing."

And so he must first face five years outside of his profession and then face the rest of his life living with the hurt and pain inflicted on staff and family.

For the horseracing industry, the good news is another corrupt individual within the game has been exposed. There is, however, a bigger picture.

Since the Al Zarooni revelations, public speculation around the purity of the racing industry has intensified. The authorities are facing a double-edged sword as the more cases they discover, the greater people's scepticism. We've seen it in other sports.

But if the industry as a whole is to be a credible entity, then the authorities must show they possess the will to address such issues and bring transparency to an aspect of the sport currently shrouded in darkness. In the short term, the effects of such an approach may be damaging but for the long-term viability it is a necessity.

When I see the millions spent on top broodmares at Newmarket this past week... it may be naivety but I want to believe the sport is one run on its merits. Surely investors wouldn't part with such vast amounts of capital buying stock to compete in an industry where potential returns are determined by a trainer's proficiency with banned substances?

Then again, the equine industry is a multi-million pound industry where potential rewards for a champion horse are life-changing – and, as long as money has existed, so has corruption.

The Turf Club's chief executive Denis Egan insisted the regulatory body has no evidence of steroid abuse in Ireland: "We will be keeping a close eye on this but, what I would say is that we carry out extensive testing in-training and there is no evidence of steroids being used here. That doesn't mean there are or aren't steroids being used, but that we have no evidence."

For a sport deriving so much funding from the public purse, transparency and detail on testing procedures and results is in short supply.

While this remains so, rumours and suspicions will rumble on. These are dark days for a great sport and an industry entwined with Irish life. Whether we will ever see a new dawn is debatable. Will those entrusted with enforcing regulations address the issue and bring transparency?

Irish Independent

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