Monday, August 12, 2013

Carrying the can, but not the Cup

Well, to no great surprise, we didn't manage to bring the Brighton Cup back again.  The surprise was that Ethics Girl started second favourite, but the race saw her perform more in line with the morning paper's projected double-figure SP.  She finished 8th of 14, running OK but no better than that, and as she'd run in the race three years ago, when she'd seemed not to handle the track (a common problem at Brighton).  But as she won the race last year, it would be hard to say that she can't act down the hill at Brighton.  Whatever, she's rated 5lb higher than she's ever won off, and 9 stone 10lb for a small horse in a good field made it quite a task.  She'll bounce back - and a little bit of leeway from the handicapper wouldn't go amiss.

Still, aside from her unremarkable performance, it was a lovely day, primarily because we spent the afternoon in the company of Lawrence Wadey and his mum Pam.  Lawrence is the managing partner of the 1997 Partnership, and is as entertaining a companion as he is good a friend; so that guaranteed that win, lose or draw, the day was going to be one to savour.  Brahma of the day, though, had to be the reaction we got when we returned the cup (glistening from my polishing) to the weighing room, as the stewards and clerk of the course trooped out of their pre-racing conference to admire such a splendid trophy.  Pity The Mare couldn't retain it, but c'est la vie!

So that was our trip to Brighton last Thursday, which for us was the event of the week.  (And, by the way, the photograph in this paragraph, taken in the field yesterday, shows that there genuinely was no harm done to Ethics Girl).  For the wider racing world, however, I think that the event of the week was the non-event of the conclusion of the 'Sungate' investigation.  So I probably ought to air my views on this debacle.  Basically, the stewards were surely correct to take no action against the nine trainers who had told them that they have used the product.  There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, none of the nine ever had a horse test positive for the drug, and the only reason the stewards knew that the trainers had used the drug was because the trainers told them that they had.  Had the trainers decided to say that they'd never used it, the stewards would have been none the wiser, bearing in mind that Rossdales appeared not to be volunteering any information or assistance in the matter.  Secondly, while the nine trainers did use a banned drug (an anabolic steroid), they used it in the the belief that they were using a permitted drug (a cortico-steroid), and they used it as a cortico-steroid.  As there was clearly no intent to use an anabolic steroid, and no evidence that they'd used one other than their voluntary submissions, it would have been very, very harsh to take action, other than to issue a stern warning. Had a horse failed a drug test it would have been different; but none had, so it wasn't.

However, what I'm not comfortable with is the fact that the names of the nine trainers have been withheld because otherwise 'an unfair stigma would be attached to them'.  That's fine, in theory - but in practice it isn't.  It would be fine had the BHA not announced that nine Newmarket trainers have used a banned anabolic steroid - but the BHA has made such an announcement, so what this means is that all Newmarket trainers are now under suspicion of having (admittedly unwittingly) administered an anabolic steroid.  So we're all under suspicion in the eyes of the man on the Clapham omnibus.

It's nice of the BHA to be concerned about the nine miscreants having an unfair stigma attached to them.  But as the with-holding of the names means that all Newmarket trainers have now had an unfair stigma attached to us, it would have been far better for the names to have been made public.  And if the BHA were as concerned about preventing the innocent trainers from having an unfair stigma attached to us as it is concerned about preventing the guilty trainers from having an unfair stigma attached to them, then it would release those names.  It's not too late to do so, so let's hope!

I'm probably over-sensitive in this respect as this is the second time that we've collectively had to carry the can for the few.  You'll recall that Andrew Tinkler used to patronise some of the most expensive stables in the town, until he removed his horses while his racing manager told the press that Newmarket trainers' fees were unjustifiably high.  Andrew Tinkler disassociated himself from those remarks, but even at the time it was hard to believe that his manager had been going off on his own tangent - and that's now even harder to believe subsequent to his interview in June's Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder, when he declared, "There's no point in keeping horses in Newmarket if they aren't going to make it.  It makes no commercial sense: it's an expensive place for 60-rated handicappers to be based".

Which, of course, is nonsense, when one bears in mind that the four trainers whom he used (Michael Stoute, Henry Cecil, William Haggas and Marco Botti) are among the most expensive in the town, while there are dozens who charge far, far less.  The rate (£37 + VAT) in this stable is very competitive with any stable in the country, and there are many other trainers in the town who charge the minimum we can without going out of business because we want to offer value to our valued patrons.  From a personal point of view, I find it as irritating to read Andrew Tinkler disseminating the message that Newmarket trainers in general offer bad value simply because he chose to use only trainers who charge probably the best part of double that figure as I find it galling to know that the BHA has decided that it's OK for the man on the Clapham omnibus to feel that Newmarket trainers in general are drugs cheats, simply because it's more concerned with the reputation of the nine trainers who have used anabolic steroids than with the reputations of the 60 or so who haven't.

8 comments:

David Winter said...

Well, like you John I find the BHA 's decision slightly silly. Firstly, although the man on the Clapham omnibus isn't aware of the identity of the nine trainers anybody even slightly associated with the town and the sport knows the identity of the people concerned.The second important point is the solid indiputable fact that the trainers did in fact come clean and that if anything the vets are/were culpable. Although in the final analysis the trainer is responsible for the welfare of the horse,it is reasonable to accept that the advice of the vet is to respected as he is the professional who's knowledge is superior to that of the trainer in matters veterinarian . I am interested to know John if you could have been caught up in the sun gate saga last year before the BHA issued warnings,I think,in
March this year ?. How would you have known that sungate wasn't to be used?

John Berry said...

The answer about knowing whether Sungate (or any other drug) can be used is that the onus is on the trainer to find out. If you want to start using a new drug, it's up to you to read the list of ingredients and to find out whether any of them are proscribed (and that's easy to find out as the BHA vets would tell you whether a substance is or isn't permissible). If in doubt, don't use the drug - as simple as that.

It's no different to if one was going to drive a car after drinking something - it's up to you to find out what's in the liquid, and whether you can or can't drive after taking it. It wouldn't cut much ice if you were breathalysed and found to be over the limit, and your explanation was that you hadn't had a drink, but had merely taken a new brand of cough medicine and that you hadn't read the list of ingredients, so didn't realise that it was 40% proof. If in doubt, don't take it. Simple as that.

There would, by the way, have been no possibility whatsoever of my having used Sungate at any stage in the past: one has to be quite free-and-easy in one's attitude towards the use of medication to take on a new drug without investigating its constituents, without checking exactly what's in it and what these things do or don't do - and I might be reckless in too many respects, but as regards use of medication I am very, very conservative.

neil kearns said...

The BHA seem to be only too willing to name and shame in all cases of alleged malpractice as regards any betting/race fixing incident , which even f found innocent will leave bus man doubting the integrity of all named . Where is the difference in this case ?
As someone who has no idea who the trainers are I feel this case was potentially of equal severity to most race fixing cases and as such I feel it to be totally inappropriate that the trainers have not been named if for no other reason than to highlight the stupidity of these individuals - John you argue the case against these people perfectly - and apart from anything else would give those of you who play totally by the rules a small potential advantage when people are looking for someone to train their charges .
As regards Mr T frankly you get what you pay for Newmarket facilities are superb but need to be paid for as such he knew what he was getting into no sympathy at all

neil kearns said...

The BHA seem to be only too willing to name and shame in all cases of alleged malpractice as regards any betting/race fixing incident , which even f found innocent will leave bus man doubting the integrity of all named . Where is the difference in this case ?
As someone who has no idea who the trainers are I feel this case was potentially of equal severity to most race fixing cases and as such I feel it to be totally inappropriate that the trainers have not been named if for no other reason than to highlight the stupidity of these individuals - John you argue the case against these people perfectly - and apart from anything else would give those of you who play totally by the rules a small potential advantage when people are looking for someone to train their charges .
As regards Mr T frankly you get what you pay for Newmarket facilities are superb but need to be paid for as such he knew what he was getting into no sympathy at all

David Winter said...

Not wishing to labour the point but as a debate it is interesting to hear your views. When checking out the ingredients of a new treatment would you as an intelligent trainer ( or indeed any trainer)be sufficiently equipped to disseminate the scientific information on the labels or are they in laymens language that is easily understood. Following on from that and assuming the information is clear; the question has to be asked why the nine trainers used the product and why the BHA regular checks didn't show up the use of said Sungate. How thorough are the BHA on their checks?...

neil kearns said...

David / John
If one moves the context out of the racing field and into general life the onus is on business to ensure that any substance used in that business is safe for all those coming into contact with it
Back to the racing scene the trainer has effectively a dual workforce the humans to whom he or she has a duty of care and the equine workers to whom they also have a duty of care . If this had been a product administered to the human part of the workforce (say a barrier cream) and he or she had not taken appropriate safety actions the trainer would feel the wrath of the legals in the event of any bad event taking place . Claiming a professional (in this example maybe a pharmacist) had said it would be OK would not be a valid defence the onus would be on the employer to have done his own check on the product - whether he had relevant expertise or not - he would be obliged to show he had considered the possibility something may however unlikely go awry .
In this case the trainers would seem to have passed their duty of care over and passed the buck back to the vet and the BHA have let them in a similar H&S case in the real world there is no question that the guilty parties would have been named and shamed and probably fined to boot
Whether any employer or the person charged with looking into products used can ever be sufficiently conversant with all products is a moot point all that he can ever hope is to do as John says and investigate to the best of ones ability and ask questions of those who are supposed to know

John Berry said...

Quite simple, really: if you want to try a new drug (which can only be produced on prescription by your vet, obviously) you only use it if you are satisfied that all of its ingredients are permissible. If there is an element of doubt - ie if you can't be satisfied that all the ingredients are permissible, either because you can't find out what the ingredients are or because, having found out their names, you can't work out if such substances are permissible or not - you don't use it. Work on the assumption that everything is unacceptable until you've satisfied yourself that it's permissible, and you won't go wrong.

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