Inside track on doping scandal - key questions for racing

By Frank KeoghBBC Sport in Newmarket
Mahmood Al Zarooni

Rumours and whispers whirl around horse racing like few other sports, and perhaps never more so than now, as it deals with the racehorse doping scandal.

Within the past fortnight, Mahmood Al Zarooni has been banned for eight years after admitting giving anabolic steroids to 15 horses, while fellow Newmarket trainer Gerard Butler faces a separate British Horseracing Authority (BHA) inquiry after nine of his stable tested positive.

Questions have been raised about the Dubai-owned Godolphin operation which employed Al Zarooni, racing's policy on drugs use, the role of some vets, and whether these cases are the tip of the iceberg or isolated incidents.

From thwarted Classic hopes to steroid-packed syringes passed out of car windows, it reads like a Dick Francis thriller.

Here we attempt to separate fact from fiction.

Is this scandal likely to widen?

The view on this depends on who you speak to, but there may not be further cases in the short-term. The BHA says the use of anabolic steroids is not widespread and it is understood to have no other pending inquiries of this nature, although it conducts random tests throughout the year.

Butler, who has about 30 horses in his stable, said he believed more than 100 Newmarket-based horses had been treated with the same Sungate product on veterinary advice.

Racing insiders said this claim "opened a can of worms". Who was next? Which other stables were involved?

But while other yards may have used the product, they will only have come unstuck if the BHA had tested their horses. And while the organisation carries out 7,000-8,000 raceday tests, it only currently tests 700-800 annually out of competition, partly because of budget constraints.

Evidence at the Al Zarooni inquiry from a veterinary expert said anabolic steroids could leave a horse's system after 28 days.

Newmarket trainer John Berry, a town councillor, said: "It's likely that other trainers who have inadvertently broken this rule have dodged a bullet."

The BHA has said Al Zarooni's sentence was "the end of the beginning" and on Thursday sent testers to a second Godolphin stable in Newmarket - the yard of Saeed bin Suroor.

"Do I think we've had the last positive test in racing? No. Do I think it's a tip of the iceberg? No," said BHA chief executive Paul Bittar.

What is happening with Godolphin's horses?

The 210 at Moulton Paddocks will not run again until owner Sheikh Mohammed - the ruler of Dubai and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates - says so. Certify will miss out on racing in the most important period of the year - the Classic races, like the 1000 Guineas, for three-year-olds. She passed two raceday tests in 2012.

In addition the BHA has suspended the 15 horses involved for six months. The ban applies from the time the stable was visited on 9 April and ends on 9 October.

Could there be a review of previous Al Zarooni-trained winners?

Al Zarooni's string included the surprise 25-1 St Leger winner Encke, whose victory at Doncaster in September under rider Mickael Barzalona denied Coolmore trainer Aidan O'Brien and jockey son Joseph a Triple Crown of British Classics (last achieved by Nijinsky in 1970) following wins at the 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby.

"Encke was tested after the race and there was no issue there," said BHA spokesman Robin Mounsey. "Winners of all major races are tested routinely. Al Zarooni's horses have been tested in training in the past without any suggestion of positive samples."

What is Godolphin's motivation and why do some horses based at Newmarket in England during the summer go to Dubai in the winter?

Geoffrey Riddle, correspondent for the UAE newspaper The National and British media organisation Racing UK, said: "Sheikh Mohammed realised through his love of horses that he could not only take on the world in elite competition, but could promote Dubai globally.

"Godolphin has competed in 16 countries and that was always the plan - to effectively plant the United Arab Emirates flag in as many places as possible.

"There was something of a change in outlook in the early to mid-2000s when the 'small but elite' force became much bigger.

"As for training, when you go to the gallops in Newmarket between November and April, it's often dark, freezing cold, with a biting wind, so not the perfect environment for a racehorse.

"In Dubai, as many trainers from Europe have said when sending horses to the Dubai Carnival meeting there, the facilities are excellent, the sun is out, and it allows thoroughbreds to flourish."

What does the future hold for Al Zarooni?

This rather depends on whether he launches a surprise appeal. Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford, a former Racing Post Newmarket correspondent who has been a loyal lieutenant of Sheikh Mohammed since the early days of Godolphin in the early 1990s, called the Dubai-born trainer's actions "disgraceful".

The man himself, employed as trainer in March 2010, said he smuggled the anabolic steroids into the UK in his luggage from Dubai, made up five unmarked syringes full of drugs and passed them to an unqualified veterinary assistant through a car window to inject into the horses. He told the inquiry he put the steroids in the feed of other animals.

Despite not being legally represented at a BHA disciplinary panel hearing, and admitting a series of serious rule breaches, he is considering an appeal, according to a Racing Post report. This could only be against the severity of the sentence, not the verdict, unless new evidence came to light.

Why was Godolphin's Simon Crisford alongside BHA chief Paul Bittar at the post-inquiry media briefing?

"Logistically it made sense, when everyone was there, rather than holding two separate press conferences. Just because they are at the same table does not indicate they are on the same side," added Mounsey.

"It is a perfectly normal process and we took advice from other sports."

Why was the inquiry held so quickly after the offence came to light?

Because Al Zarooni had confessed to doping it was an easier case to conclude than if he had contested the verdict.

The BHA wanted to get the matter resolved quickly as uncertainty over future plans for horses could affect future races and betting markets, and is keen to stress this was part of a wider Godolphin inquiry with questions still being asked.

What does Sheikh Mohammed think about all this?

Racing broadcaster Derek Thompson, who has dealt with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum - to give him his full title - many times during his 40-year career on TV and radio, believes he will have been "horrified" by the scandal.

Thompson said: "He is first and foremost a lover of horses and although he loves to win at whatever he is doing, he would - in my opinion - no way infringe the racing rules at any time.

"Remember, Sheikh Mohammed is the reigning world champion in endurance racing and although he might not admit to being over 60 years of age, he actually is.

"To have achieved such an incredible level of fitness is remarkable, especially when you consider his duties as ruler of Dubai must mean he is almost working a 25-hour day, eight days a week."

Journalist Riddle added: "This will have been deeply humiliating. The man he chose to take the reins at Moulton Paddocks has completely abused the faith placed in him."

What is endurance racing?

Endurance racing involves treks of 100 miles usually with Arabian horses and overseen by equestrian governing body Federation Equestre Internationale, which also separately administers the Olympic sports of show jumping, eventing and dressage.

Sheikh Mohammed, who is married to FEI president Princess Haya, served a six-month 'athlete suspension' in 2009 after his mount Tahhan tested positive for an anabolic steroid.

His trainer Abdullah bin Huzaim, who was banned for a year, said he administered the drugs without the sheikh's knowledge.

How has the Godolphin story been covered in Dubai?

The story has not been given widespread coverage, whereas it has been a major item on sports and news bulletins in the UK.

"The media in Dubai have a very difficult job to perform given that Sheikh Mohammed is not only the ruler, but also an ambassador for their country," said Riddle.

Has the BHA spoken to the sheikh directly?

"I haven't spoken to Sheikh Mohammed personally. I've been working through Simon Crisford as Godolphin's racing manager," said Bittar.

"We have made ourselves available to Sheikh Mohammed should he wish to speak to us or we wish to speak to him at some stage.

"Ultimately, the trainer has sole responsibility. Simon has a great deal of responsibility within Godolphin and has been our contact point up to now."

Why is the Gerard Butler case different to Godolphin?

Whereas Al Zarooni appeared to act without consulting vets, Butler said he was recommended the Sungate product - the brand name of an Italian-made preparation of stanozolol - by a veterinary practice.

The BHA has acknowledged the source of the positive samples had been established as a "product licensed in the EU and legally imported for use by a veterinary practice, the initial administration of which was recommended by a vet".

Butler told the Independent newspaper his vet gave the initial doses but he self-administered the substance to four horses, injecting into their joints to help them with injuries.

What is the BHA's response to Butler's claim that it rubber-stamped his medication record?

"That case is still being investigated so it would be inappropriate to comment."

What about the vets in the Butler case?

The BHA says it has interviewed representatives of the veterinary practice, which the BBC has not named for legal reasons. The practice has declined to comment so far.

Does the BHA have jurisdiction over vets?

Vets are not covered by British racing's governing body, but by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

"They are not licensed under our rules, and at times that can be a great frustration to us. That doesn't mean we can't interview people and seek to get intelligence or information from them," Bittar said.

"We are having ongoing discussions with vets, not just the veterinary practice that Gerard Butler has named but also other practices around the country."

Are the tests being carried out blood tests or urine tests?

"They are blood tests. An important point to make is they are being conducted by the BHA. This is a BHA inquiry," added Bittar.

"All of the testing taking place at Moulton Paddocks and being conducted at Bin Suroor's stables is being done by our testing team. It's not a Godolphin review, it's a review by the regulator and quite independent from them.

"Having said that, we are getting full co-operation from Godolphin, which makes the process a lot easier."

What are racing's rules on anabolic steroids?

Anabolic steroids are outlawed, in any form, in British racing. However, the rules are different internationally, with countries including Australia, the United States and Dubai allowing them to be used out of competition provided the substance is out of the horse's system by raceday.

Bittar, an Australian, has called for Wada-style global anti-doping rules.

The anomaly in regulations has led to suggestions British-trained runners are not competing on a level playing field with their international rivals at events such as Royal Ascot.

But Australian trainer Peter Moody has denied his retired record-breaking mare Black Caviar, whose unbeaten 25-race career included victory at Ascot in June 2012, had ever been given anabolic steroids.

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