Drugs cheat Al Zarooni warned off for eight years

Mahmood Al  Zarooni in the spotlight

Mahmood Al Zarooni in the spotlight

The British Horseracing Authority has acted with commendable speed in dealing with Mahmood Al Zarooni in warning him off for eight years after he was found to have administered anabolic steroids to 11 horses in his Moulton Paddock stables.

The lengthy ban on Al Zarooni comes about because in addition to charges about the use of steroids (23 April: Al Zarooni's career hangs in balance)), he was also found to have brought the whole sport of racing into disrepute. He is, simply, a drugs cheat.

The speedy response would not have been possible without the full co-operation of Sheikh Mohammed and the Godolphin team. They have worked with the BHA to prepare the case against Al Zarooni, so that a hearing and punishment could take place within days of the news becoming public.

Godolphin have been embarrassed, ashamed and angered that one of their most trusted employees, a man who was hand picked for the job by racing manager Simon Crisford, has proved so untrustworthy in such an appalling way. Crisford made that absolutely clear in a statement after the hearing yesterday that said, “It’s a terrible, terrible day for British racing and an awful position for Godolphin to be in. It is going to take a long time to restore our reputation in British racing, but these were the actions of a reckless individual who has no respect for the sport of horseracing. This is a dark day for British racing. We are deeply sorry as he was our trainer.”

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Interest in the case went far beyond the racing press, and the BHA made it clear that there was every possibility that the hearing may run into a second day. It didn’t, primarily because Al Zarooni decided he would not have any legal representation to plead mitigation. It was a matter of “You got me fair and square, guv,” with the hearing focusing on the chain of events that the BHA inspectors found on their testing in training visit on 9 April.

More came to light than we learned earlier in the week. First, Al Zarooni said that in addition to the 11 horses that showed up in the tests, he had given steroids to four others, making a total of 15 treated animals. The additional horses, Comitas, Sashiko, Vacationer and Tearless are all unraced. Secondly, the drugs involved, ethylestranol and stanozolol, are not merely banned in horses, but are prohibited substances in any veterinary practice in Britain. Al Zarooni had effectively had them smuggled them into the country from Dubai.

Thirdly, as was almost certain to be the case, Al Zarooni was not the only person involved. He identified two foremen and a veterinary assistant as the people who were instructed to administer the drugs during March, although the (now) former trainer acknowledged that the latter could not have known what it was he was giving the horses. Really?

Finally, Al Zarooni said that he had also treated a further ten horses with steroids in pre-training in Dubai. All in all, quite a catalogue of activity that strikes right at the heart of the integrity of racing.

There are, of course, repercussions beyond the ban imposed on Al Zarooni. First, the fifteen horses treated, which include several that were entered in the Classics, are banned from racing for a period of six months. They will have to be tested again to ensure that any performance advantage they might have gained from the steroids has worked its way out. By 9 October, when they will be able to compete again, there will be little more than a month of the flat season left, so it’s unlikely we will see many of them this year.

Sheikh Mohammed has put the whole of Moulton Paddocks stable under lockdown for the immediate future. He said in a statement, “I have instructed that I want a full round of blood samples, and dope testing done on every single horse on that premises. I can assure the racing public that no horse will run from that yard this season until I have been absolutely assured by my team that the yard is completely clean.”

That takes the stable out of commission for at least the next month, unless the samples are fast-tracked through the system. I don’t think that Godolphin will ask for any special treatment; their co-operation with the BHA and their clear determination to root out wrongdoing is gaining them respect from the racing world. That would be lost if they asked for any favours now.

There are around 150 horses at Moulton Paddocks. What does the future hold for them? The Godolphin organisation was set up to bring together the Sheikh’s many horses into two yards, rather than having them scattered across many different trainers, so you would think that they will look to bring in another trainer and keep the yard together. Sheikh Mohammed is known to prefer to have his horses trained by native Dubaians, so we might soon be hearing a new name in the training ranks. In the short term it’s possible that, once Godolphin gives them the all clear to run, some may transfer over to Godolphin’s other trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, particularly if they are earmarked for major races over the summer.

There are implications for stable jockeys Sylvestre De Sousa, and, more especially, Mickael Barzalona, who rode most often for Al Zarooni. Neither should suffer even though they may find themselves competing more for rides from Saeed bin Suroor, both will be available more often for other trainers to put up.

Paul Bittar, chief executive of the BHA, had immediately recognised the seriousness of what came to light in March at Al Zarooni’s stable. He said yesterday, “In view of the potential repercussions for the sport and the profile of the races for which some of the horses held entries, it was in the public’s interest, as well as that of the BHA and Godolphin, to progress the disciplinary procedures as quickly as possible.”

That has happened, and in ensuring it did, and with the severity of the punishment administered to Al Zarooni, the BHA has shown that it will not tolerate drug abuse, and the consequent risk to animal welfare, in the sport of racing.

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