That view gained credence over the weekend when Newmarket trainer Gerard Butler used the phrase “an unpardonable misjudgement.” It sounds remarkably like “a catastrophic error”, the words of Mahmood al Zarooni when his use of performance enhancing drugs in 15 horses in his stable first came to light.
Butler has put up his hand to using a banned substance on several of his horses whilst in training, and now expects that the British Horseracing Authority will issue him with a ban from racing. What’s curious in Butler’s case is that he had already told the BHA that he had used a medication called Sungate to treat several of his horses and the authorities had not raised any question about it.
He told The Independent, “It did not cross me mind that there cold be any problem with this medication. And, judging from the fact that the BHA said nothing about it when they saw my medical book, it does not seem to have crossed their minds either. Little Black Book (the horse treated) ran on 4 August, and won a couple of weeks later, so they would have known he was clearly in training at the time. In the medical book, I signed that I had authorised use of the drug, and my vet had signed for its administration. Sungate had for some time been used in their practice, with very beneficial results for joint injuries.”
That was last year. On 16 February this year Butler gave Sungate himself to five fillies, and the BHA is likely to punish him heavily for treating them without veterinary involvement. Again, he entered this in the medical books for the horses, on the basis that he had done so before and the authorities had not questioned it. But a random test four days later showed a banned substance, and Butler revealed the extent of his use of it went further than those five fillies.
He said he had also used it on four colts, but because he had not obtained the drug through his vet, he had not put it in the medical books. Explaining this behaviour, he said, “The fact that I didn’t put that on the record shows I knew it was wrong to diagnose and medicate those horses myself. It was an unpardonable misjudgement, purely to cut corners in what is a very expensive treatment. But I have been totally candid throughout with the BHA, and it was I who told them I had treated four colts in December and January. I’m not trying to defend myself, just to explain what happened. And I must emphasise that I was advised in good faith by my vets.”
Butler reckons that at least 100 horses in Newmarket have been treated with Sungate. There must have been some doubt as to its status, as last month the BHA put a notice in the newsletter of the National Trainers’ Federation to advise that Sungate itself is a banned substance.
There can be no doubt about that now, but it would be no great surprise to find one or two other trainers are sleeping uneasily in their beds at the moment.