Trainer Howard Johnson yesterday attended an enquiry called by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) to answer charges relating to horse welfare and doping. The County Durham trainer was summoned to London after admitting he had run a horse eight times after it had undergone a leg operation to remove the nerves to the foot.
Rory Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, explained the impact of the procedure, known as a palmer neurectomy. "It means that anything that happens to the horse, for example a nail going into a hoof, it won't feel a thing."
The operation was carried out on Striking Article in 2008, after the horse had pulled up in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Striking Article went on to race a further eight times, winning three of those races. In its final race, at Musselburgh in February last year, the horse pulled up lame and was put down, and the operation came to light when a post mortem was carried out after the race.
Horses that have had this operation are banned from racing on welfare grounds, but also because there is an increased risk to jockeys. Johnson denies the charge, saying he did not know the operation was banned, and that he had been advised by his vet that Striking Article could continue to race.
Separately, Johnson is also charged with administering the steroid laurabolin, a drug which contains nandrolone, to three horses, Whisky Magic, Mintaka Pass and Montoya's Son. He denies this charge also. The BHA enquiry is expected to conclude today, but no decision is likely this week.
Johnson has been training for 25 years, and if he is found guilty he could face the loss of his licence. This would lead to the break up of one of jump racing's most successful partnerships, between trainer Johnson and owner Graham Wylie.