Latest Cases - May 2013

My take on racing's drug scandal…

2nd May 2013

Good afternoon, friends,

In this issue of Punters’ Verdict

  • Are racing punters getting a fair shake?
  • Drug problems in British yards…
  • My suspicious mind…
  • Is there more than a tip to this iceberg?
  • Consistent international rules are required…

Are racing punters getting a fair shake?

Is the British racing punter betting on a level playing field?

Are horseracing bettors getting a fair shake?

Does the structure of the sport – and conditions inherent within it – serve to produce a straight table?

Or is it ever-so-slightly slanted towards vested interests and unscrupulous operators prepared to bend or break the rules if it confers a competitive or financial advantage?

Given recent events and developments I would understand it if you’d become a bit of a doubting Thomas on the subject. Racing has some serious problems to address right now…

Drug problems in British yards…

Unless you’ve been stuck down a mineshaft you’ll already be well aware of events at Moulton Paddocks – the stable owned by Godolphin and, until very recently at least, overseen by Mahmood Al Zarooni.

Al Zarooni has been banned from the sport for 8 years after admitting that he administered anabolic steroids – outlawed in Britain – to 15 horses under his supervision.

I don’t intend to go into the detailed ins and outs of the case here – all the nitty-gritty can be found in the British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) Press Release published after Al Zarooni’s disciplinary hearing.

But what I do want to focus on is the speed with which the BHA dealt with the case. Most media commentators have nothing but praise for the swiftness of the BHA’s response and the punishment imposed on Al Zarooni. But – and feel free to call me a contrarian or a conspiracy theorist – I find myself suspicious of that speed.

They say the wheels of justice grind slowly. And they usually do. But that wasn’t the case in this instance…

Within DAYS of the initial announcement of Al Zarooni’s transgressions the 37-year-old trainer had taken total responsibility for what had gone on, he’d been completely and utterly disowned and cut adrift by Godolphin, he’d been hung, drawn and quartered in the press, he’d been up before the BHA, punished and swiftly dispatched back to Dubai on a jet plane – presumably never to be seen or heard from again.

All this transpired within DAYS. Have you ever known sporting justice dispensed so summarily? It can take longer to rescind a red card in a football match.

My suspicious mind…

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my suspicious mind. Maybe it’s just my imagination running away with me. But I think the haste with which this matter has been handled smacks of damage limitation.

The sheer efficiency of the disciplinary process smells to my well-trained nose like the attempted suppression of a bigger story.

The swift and ruthless determination to draw a line under Al Zarooni’s antics suggests to me there’s more to come out – much more. But, as I say, maybe I’ve just got a suspicious mind.

  • Maybe the powers-that-be know the score and are totally certain that the tip is all there is to this particular iceberg?

They don’t want a lot of costly hysteria where every yard in the country is dragged under the microscope? That would be a BIG waste of time and money right? The underside of that rock is completely clean right? This Al Zarooni affair is an isolated incident right? Let’s just get a line drawn under this thing and move on… OK? That’s the best thing for everybody concerned…

  • Maybe someone wanted to save the blushes of a certain Sheikh Mohammed?

You could understand how his finer feelings might become an issue – something to protect.

British racing is heavily dependent on the money he spends. Were he to pull out of British racing it would have a serious (maybe catastrophic) effect on the sport. It would change the face of racing in this country - permanently. It would adversely impact on a lot of businesses and a lot of jobs in racing and the industries that support it.

People at the top of the sport are well aware of this. Maybe they didn’t want Sheikh Mohammed discouraged or disappointed by any undue interest in the medical records and histories of other horses under Al Zarooni’s care?

They maybe didn’t want the Sheikh’s ire roused by any unfair interest in his horses that are trained at Saeed Bin Suroor’s yard, for example?

They maybe didn’t want the steady flow of dollars from Dubai compromised by inconvenient press questions about Godolphin’s medication policies going back over the years?

They maybe didn’t want the crucial cash flow threatened by questions about exactly how long this steroid use has been going on… exactly who has been involved… or exactly how far up the Godolphin food chain this thing reaches?

Maybe that’s why the BHA tried to kill this thing quickly?  So that everybody could just MOVE ON – after congratulating Godolphin for its total cooperation and openness with the investigation and patting the BHA on the back for its decisiveness and effectiveness?

If that’s the case – and I’m not suggesting it is – then someone should have told Gerard Butler

Is there more to this iceberg than a tip?

The exhaust fumes from Al Zarooni’s flight back to Dubai had barely diffused before Newmarket-based trainer, Gerard Butler, undermined the BHA’s attempt to keep a lid on things by not only coming clean about his own use of anabolic steroids – on veterinarian advice – but also asserting that the substances had been used – to his knowledge – on more than 100 racehorses in Newmarket.

Butler can expect a long ban as and when his case is dealt with – bringing more negative headlines for racing. But if his other claims are true than you can bet your Granny’s pension that there will be multiple Newmarket-based trainers tossing restlessly in their beds at night waiting for a knock on the door.

And, of course, Butler won’t know the full extent of steroid use throughout British racing – he’s only talking about things he knows about. There will surely be instances he isn’t aware of.

And nor is Newmarket the only training center in Britain. It is only a matter of time before yards outside Newmarket come under scrutiny.

I take no pleasure in saying it but this steroid issue has longer legs than we were led to believe. The presentation of Al Zarooni as an isolated renegade acting unilaterally appears to have backfired somewhat.

Like a West End musical this show is set to run and run – dragging the sport through the mud and undermining racing as a fair betting vehicle in the process.

Consistent international rules are required…

In just 6 weeks the 5-day Royal Ascot meeting will be taking center stage. Over the last few years we’ve seen Australian horses heading to Berkshire to compete in the big Group 1 sprints.

Normally the press coverage focuses on the sheer size, power and speed of the Australian raiders (Black Caviar, the big unbeaten Australian sprinting star of recent times, was reported to weigh 25kg more than Sprinter Sacre, an out-and-out chaser).

This time round we can expect a lot of talk about whether the use of steroids – many of which are accepted medicinal preparations for horses trained down under – confer an unfair competitive advantage on the horses that have been treated with them.

In an international racing environment this issue isn’t going to go away until racing authorities in multiple jurisdictions get their heads together and implement rules that produce a level playing field: rules which see all racehorses – whatever country they are trained or raced in – subject to the same consistent stipulations on which drugs can and cannot be used.   

Before that happens British racing must get its own stables mucked out and put into good order. And that looks like it might turn out to be a long and painful process. But it MUST happen – whatever the cost and whatever reputations suffer in the process.

Failure to get to grips with this thorny issue can only undermine racing as a fair and equitable betting vehicle going forward.

I’ll be back with the Verdict next week.

The Judge

www.PuntersVerdict.co.uk 

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