Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Plenty going on - including, as ever, the weather (largely good and at times very good, although we still aren't totally out of the woods of winter, not that we ever are) - but I might just stick to stuff which I've read in the media.  Michael Rafferty of (I think) Co. Louth, also known as @AnaglogsDaughter, often puts old racing pages up on Twitter, from that same day in the year xxxx.  A couple of days ago he posted the Times' racing page from that day in 1991 which happened to give us an update, written by Richard Evans, on what was then the Levy Board's plan to try to sell Epsom, Sandown and Kempton in the relatively near future.  We've had quite a lot on this subject in this blog this year, but one can never have too much of a bad thing.

Anyway, I'll reproduce some of the article, from which you may glean what you wish: "The Levy Board bought Epsom and Sandown for £1.5 million in 1969 and acquired Kempton a year later for £800,000 to protect them from possible development following the demise of Hurst Park.  The three courses, comprising almost 1,000 acres of prime Green Belt land 15 miles from central London, will be placed on the market in 1992, provided "copper-bottomed" guarantees are obtained to safeguard their future for racing, Sir John Sparrow, Chairman of the Levy Board, said yesterday."

That's straightforward.  What is less straightforward is how the eventual purchaser, which body now rejoices under the name of Jockey Club Racecourses Ltd, feels that it is either ethical or permissible, having bought the courses in a deal whose circumstances are outlined above, now to try to sell one of them for development.  And that's not even touching upon the separate issue of how Jockey Club Racecourses Ltd, a body which claims to exist for the good of racing, can justify attempting to embark upon a course of action which nearly all objective, informed bystanders believe to be bad for racing.

But that's enough of that.  Now for something completely different.  The same racing page contained a separate paragraph which rested under the headline 'Ham fined £500': "Gerald Ham was fined £500 by the Jockey Club yesterday after a prohibited substance, the steroid nandrolone, was found in Travail Girl after the mare had won a selling chase at Fontwell  Park in December".  Gee, Gerald got off lightly!  I know that the use of anabolic steroids was less frowned upon then than it is now (when, as I understand things, even the really big operations have stopped using them) but it was against the rules even then to present a horse on race-day with anabolic steroids in his/her system; and such drugs had been detectable since 1976, a year which marked the beginning of the end of the glory days for several stables which had enjoyed great success up to that point but which suffered an obvious decline shortly afterwards.

So the war against anabolic steroids, which now appears to have been won, was already well under way by 1991.  The precedent had already been set for a trainer to receive a five-figure sum for having a horse test positive for anabolic steroids.  So Gerald receiving a fine of £500 for a positive test for nandrolone?  Well, it is safe to assume that he would not have been tempted to appeal that sentence on the grounds of severity.  'Ham gets the bacon' used to be a head-line writer's dream for a report on a raceday when Gerald had trained a winner.  No doubt he felt that he'd got the bacon when he walked away from Portman Square that day merely £500 poorer.

Which brings us nicely round to our antipodean brethren.  I'm still scratching my head about the explanatory notes which accompanied the verdict when Danny O'Brien and Mark Kavanagh appealed their convictions for presenting horses on race-day with an illegally high cobalt reading.  Rightly or wrongly, the stewards of Racing Victoria had decided that cobalt, if administered in high concentration, is a performance-enhancer, and had consequently made it an offence to present a horse at the races with a reading above a threshold level, a level which could only be exceeded if cobalt had been administered in large doses.

Danny O'Brien and Mark Kavanagh had both had horses test positive to cobalt at levels above this high threshold.  Consequently they were found guilty and given a stiff sentence.  They appealed, and last week we found that the independent court of appeal had upheld their appeals.  It transpired that the dope tests on which their convictions had rested were invalid because the correct procedures had not been followed in their collation. (I think, although I could be wrong on this, that the problem was that the defendants had not been given the choice of which approved laboratory would conduct the confirmatory analysis on the 'B' sample).

That might seem a minor detail, but one could make the same observation regarding our BHA and the perceived conflict of interest resultant from Matthew Lohn sitting in judgement on the Jim Best case.  In this day and age, it is so important that prosecutors do everything by the book; and, as regards dope-testing procedure, doing things by the book is not hard.  It is more than surprising that a supposedly competent regulatory authority could have cocked this up.   Following the correct procedure is not difficult; and failing to do so renders the test-results inadmissible evidence.  Bearing that in mind, it is also hard to fathom how a supposedly competent regulatory authority could have gone through with a prosecution for an alleged doping misdemeanour without being able to present evidence of a failed dope test.  Not having a dope test means that there is no case, and the appeal had to be upheld.  The whole thing makes the BHA's Matthew Lohn cock -up look good.

But the really weird thing was that the appeal board gave a second reason for upholding the appeal.  This was so odd, both for the fact that it didn't need to do so (one was enough) and because the second one was not only otiose but also bollocks.  The second reason was that, although it was established that the source of the extremely high concentrations of cobalt was a treatment which the trainers had had their vet give to the horses, it had not been proven that the trainers knew that this treatment was cobalt-rich.

What is all that about?  It would be a different matter if high cobalt levels had been found and nobody could understand how the cobalt had got there.  But that wasn't the case: the source was established, and the source was a treatment which the vet gave to the horse under the trainer's instruction.  Since when did, "Don't blame me - how was I to know what was in the drug?  I didn't read the list of ingredients" become any kind of excuse at all?  If that was the principle in use in Britain, Gerald Butler probably couldn't have been convicted for his horse testing positive to Sungate, bearing in mind that the only trainer who told me that he had used Sungate told me that he had done so not realising that it contained an anabolic steroid, and had merely used it on the suggestion of his vet who had produced it and suggested that it might work.

(Which it didn't - the horse in question never raced and was never dope-tested.  And the trainer in question is no longer a trainer.  I feel that I ought to add that footnote just in case anyone feels that there is an investigation here to be undertaken, which there isn't).  But the long and short of it is that one has to feel that one is on a very slippery slope if the onus is on the prosecutor to prove that the person who has given/taken the drug had read the list of ingredients.  That's impossible.  And ludicrous.  If you're a trainer and you decide a horse should have this or that medication, you are responsible. And if you are too lazy to read the ingredients, then you deserve all that's coming to you.  To suggest otherwise, as the Victorian appeal board (quite unnecessarily and irrelevantly) appears to have done, is nonsense.  Just plain nonsense.  Like the Kempton scam.

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