Top trainer offers £10k reward to clear his name in doping case
One of racing’s most respected trainers has taken the unprecedented step of offering a £10,000 reward for information to clear his name after one of his horses tested positive for an anabolic steroid four months ago in a midweek winter race where the prize-money on offer was just £2,500.
Hughie Morrison, 56, the outspoken Group One-winning trainer, could face a suspension of up to 10 years after his filly, Our Little Sister, was selected for testing after finishing last in a field of eight runners at Wolverhampton in January. She tested positive for nandrolone, a performance-enhancing drug.
Morrison, who has had 780 winners in his 21-year career, vehemently maintains his innocence and protests that he has no knowledge of how the animal was exposed to the drug. He is now appealing to the public to help him unravel what he believes is a malicious attempt to sabotage his training operation in East Ilsley, Berkshire. He has alerted Thames Valley Police.
The British Horseracing Authority’s rules of strict liability for prohibited substances and British racing’s zero-tolerance approach to anabolic steroids mean Morrison faces a ban from training of between one and 10 years if he is found guilty. Unless he uncovers further evidence, he expects to be charged by the BHA shortly.
The tough penalties were introduced by the BHA two years ago following the notorious Mahmood Al Zarooni case, when the Godolphin trainer systematically administered an anabolic steroid, stanozolol, to 11 Godolphin horses in the early part of 2013 to enhance their performance. This represents the first test of the new rules.
Morrison told The Daily Telegraph: “I am doing everything I possibly can to get to the bottom of this. I’ve reported it to Thames Valley Police who, along with the BHA, were supportive in my offering a reward to see if this could take things forward.
We have brought in one of the world’s leading experts from America. We’ve found out through our own research that it cannot be a contamination issue with this particular drug and we have all but ruled out the slim chance she was producing it herself.
“We have carried out an extensive search around the stable. We questioned a possible flaw in the testing but a B sample sent to Paris also came back positive, along with our own hair sample.
“What on earth could I have to gain from this? Our Little Sister was a horse of limited ability, in a race with hardly any prize money, and there was no unusual betting on it.
“Racing is my life. My reputation is everything. I might annoy a few people, but everyone knows my integrity is 100 per cent. I would never, ever do anything to besmirch the good name of the sport.”
Our Little Sister, a moderate filly, tested positive at Wolverhampton races on Jan 14 when she finished eighth of eight runners in the Betway Marathon Handicap, a race worth just £2,500, over two miles. The 14-1 shot dropped away tamely and was beaten by 18 lengths, after which she was tested. It is understood there was no evidence of any unusual betting on the horse.
The filly, who never won a race and whose career earnings amounted to £1,500, was rated 48 by the BHA, which is towards the bottom end in the scale of ability. The trainer only kept her to give the stable’s apprentice jockeys and amateur riders experience during the winter months.
She ran again 12 days later, for the final time, at Southwell, when she finished eighth of 13. She was not tested on that occasion but was subsequently retired and re-homed because of her lack of ability as a racehorse.
The BHA mounted an unannounced dawn raid on Morrison’s yard on Feb 3, and the trainer was then informed of Our Little Sister’s positive test from Jan 14.
In the February raid, blood samples were taken from the whole yard of 77 horses and all returned negative results, including Our Little Sister – which suggests that the filly had been administered the muscle-building drug on only one occasion, as it was already out of her system by then.
Morrison has never had a positive test and has passed regular routine BHA inspections of his yard. He has also been vocal in his criticism of the use of anabolic steroids. Passionate about his sport, he rarely sits on the fence, and believes he may have made enemies.
With the help of a toxicologist from America, Morrison’s investigations and, in particular, the analysis of a hair sample from the filly’s mane, have revealed the strong likelihood that the drug, nandrolone laurate, was administered in a six-week period from December to mid-January.
Nandrolone laurate is commercially available in the UK only in the form of Laurabolin, an intramuscular preparation that is designed to be administered with a needle and is legally available only from veterinary surgeons as a prescription-only medication.
Hair samples taken from other horses in his care, including the horse in the next-door box, which was racing at around the same time, have revealed that Our Little Sister was the only one showing any trace of the drug.
Morrison believes that whoever injected the filly must have a thorough knowledge of racing and the implications for a positive test for this drug, as well as access to the prescription-only medication. It also suggests an intimate knowledge of his yard lay-out and, in a stable which does not have many runners during the winter, a knowledge of which horse was due to run when the drug would still be in its system.
Morrison said: “She was away from the yard during the period that we suspect the substance was administered, when she was one of three runners we had at Southwell on Jan 2, a Bank Holiday Monday, She was left unattended for a significant time due to an injury to another of our runners.
As the rules stand, the onus is on me as the licence holder to establish who administered an anabolic steroid to Our Little Sister. I have told the vast majority of my owners, who have been incredibly supportive and sympathetic. I employ 25 people directly, many of them living in the village, and it is causing enormous amount of distress to them as well as my family as I face the possibility of losing my licence and reputation.”
Trainers know how easy it is for the BHA to detect these drugs and that, if caught, it could cost them their careers. It is difficult to see the incentive for doping the filly.
Morrison said: “Our Little Sister was a moderate but sweet filly who gave the apprentices and amateurs the chance to learn race-riding skills and that was her job. Before all this cropped up, we found a home for her as a riding horse and we’re very grateful to her new owner for her cooperation in giving us access to the filly for our investigations.”
A BHA spokesman said last night: “It’s BHA policy not to comment on ongoing investigations.”