Mahmood al Zarooni – a dope on the ropes

Mahmood al Zarooni – a dope on the ropes
mahmood al zarooni has 11 horses fail drugs tests

You’re fired!

The great sport of racing doesn’t need bad publicity. And it certainly doesn’t need high profile cheats. Mahmood al-Zarooni is a trainer in a privileged position. He has been blessed with training some of the very best thoroughbreds racing anywhere in the world.

Next year he’ll be lucky to train donkeys on the beach at Cleethorpes.

It never ceases to amaze me how the broadcasting media only covers horse racing when the news is bad. They missed out on the opportunity to give the sport a good kicking earlier this month when all the horses taking part in the Grand National came home safe and sound.

But now racing has given those who look down their noses at the sport a bad smell to inhale.

Zarooni has owned up to a “catastrophic error.”

Eleven horses in his care have tested positive for anabolic steroids. They include Certify, which was due to race in the 1000 Guineas a week on Sunday. The horse cannot now race and most bookies are reimbursing punters who backed this one ante-post.

In this day and age it is common for drugs in sport stories to be overblown. That is not the case here. This truly is the biggest doping scandal to hit racing.

It was not the British Horseracing Authority that brought this disturbing news to the wider world. The Godolphin operation that owns the eleven horses were quick to break the story. Damage limitation public relations in action.

How did you do it Mahmood? "Just like that"

How did you do it Mahmood? “Just like that”

Simon Crisford, Godolphin’s racing manager, said on Monday that it had been “a dark day for Godolphin, and we are all shocked by what has happened”.

He added: “His highness Sheikh Mohammed was absolutely appalled when he was told and this is completely unacceptable to him. We will await the outcome of the BHA inquiry before taking any further internal action.

“Sheikh Mohammed has instructed me to begin an urgent review of all of our procedures and controls. That is already under way and we will take advice from the BHA in completing it.”

For his part Mahmood al-Zarooni expressed deep regret and said: “Because the horses involved were not racing at the time, I did not realise that what I was doing was in breach of the rules of racing. I  can only apologise for the damage this will cause to Godolphin and to racing generally.”

That comment leaves me open mouthed. How could he not know what he was doing was wrong?

On one hand he talks of an error, so giving the impression this was a cock up. Then he speaks of not realising “what I was doing” broke any rules. I take that to mean he knew the horses were being fed steroids. Which, frankly, is unforgivable and beyond the pale.

Not that I am surprised this goes on. I am not. And many people who work at the heart of racing will not be surprised. Not genuinely so.

Indeed I was reminded this morning of one off the record conversation that took place between myself and two others – one of whom works at the very heart of the sport – only last year. Let’s just say that person, who is ideally placed to know, will not be surprised at this turn of events.

And I feel sure that person is not alone. I think that there is lots of fake indignation on display today. Some people in racing are pretending to be shocked while, behind their hands, saying: “what took the BHA so long?”

Like the drinking or drug habits of a handful of the humans who compete in the sport, many close to racing know who is up to no good.

The BHA investigators obtained samples from 45 horses at Zarooni’s stable near Newmarket. Seven of those horses, including Certify, tested positive for ethylestrenol. Four others, including Opinion Poll, were found to have tested positive for stanozolol.

Anabolic steroids are banned. Everyone involved in training racehorses knows that. They are considered the most serious of all potentially performance enhancing drugs that can be administered to horses.

Desert Blossom, Certify, Fair Hill, Ghostflower, Orkney Island, Sweet Rose and Valley Of Queens tested positive for ethylestranol and Artigiano, Bathrat Amal, Opinion Poll and Restraint of Trade tested positive for stanozolol.

Certify is out of the 1000 Guineas

Certify is out of the 1000 Guineas

Adam Brickell, director of integrity for the BHA, said: “Ethylestranol and stanozolol are anabolic steroids and therefore prohibited substances under British rules of racing, at any time – either in training or racing. Mahmood Al Zarooni has been advised of the analysts’ findings and has been visited by an investigating officer.

“A disciplinary panel enquiry into the analysts’ findings will take place at the first available opportunity, confirmed details of which will follow when available. The horses which have produced positive tests will also not be permitted to race with immediate effect and for an extended period of time. As part of the ongoing process a decision will be made as to what period this suspension will be imposed for.

“The BHA understand the importance of this process being carried out as quickly as possible because of implications for betting markets.”

The implication of this story for Mahmood al-Zarooni is clear. He is finished as a racehorse trainer. At least in the UK. Godolphin are sure to replace him.

But the image of racing has been damaged. At a time when so many working daily in the sport are struggling to make a living, a high profile stable being caught doping horses is very bad news. The danger is that it tars everyone with the same brush. And that would be every bit as wrong as what Zarooni has done.

This story will be lapped up by the anti-racing action groups. But, in my opinion, they can go forth and multiply.

Of greater concern to all is that events such as this will put racegoers and punters off the sport. Those new to betting on the sport, or considering doing so, may think twice.

And while the sport needs the input of the likes of Sheikh Mohammed; without punters it is doomed.

I hope the authorities come down very hard on Mahmood al Zarooni. Not only must racing be clean. It must be seen to be clean.

And those who fill horses with illegal drugs should never work in the sport again.

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