Godolphin doping scandal focussed minds: chief vet

Pirate IRWIN
Trainer Mahmood al-Zarooni was banned for eight years after a doping scandal at Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Goldophin stable

The doping scandal that enveloped Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Goldophin stable in 2013 served to shake the racing authorities out of a false sense of security, Irish racing's chief vet told AFP.

The doping of 22 horses with anabolic steroids at their English stables -- including the 2012 St Leger winner Encke -- resulted in an eight year ban for trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni and did untold damage to the image of his employer.

Dr Lynn Hillyer was a central figure in the case as she then worked for the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

Now with the Irish Turf Club she told AFP after the initial shock and negative headlines the affair served to shake up different racing authorities across the world.

"Nobody likes the sport you love being splashed across the papers or on the 10 o'clock News," said Hillyer on Thursday on the sidelines of the Tackling Doping in Sport conference.

"Some saw it as a success that they had been caught, I saw it as something had gone wrong somewhere.

"However, two good things evolved from it. With anabolic steroids there was a real impetus to co-ordinate policy.

"It would also be fair to say it focussed the minds of individual racing authorities on doping because perhaps when things aren't happening the thought is everything is ok.

"When something does happen everyone from those in the sport to the fans require reassurance and this had a sort of impetus of reviewing what we were doing."

Hillyer says though mercifully for a sport that relies heavily for its credibility on integrity doping is not a scourge.

"It is very rare," she said.

"When I was at the BHA there might be 20 positives a year against say 8-9000 samples and the ratio would be similar of what I've seen so far in Ireland.

"There have been three positive tests in six months, all of those are conventional antibiotics which are commonly used.

"There have not been any nasties if you like."

- 'Goalposts are clear' -

Hillyer, who says she has rarely seen a greater density of drug testing than in Ireland with both pre-race and post race testing on the racedays themselves, said for those few who stepped over a clear line there is zero tolerance.

"The vast majority of trainers look after their horses and don't wish to give them doping agents and are doing a good job," she said.

"What we are trying to do is differentiate between those who wish to use medication for therapeutic use and on the other hand make it very clear alternative practise won't be tolerated. Zero tolerance if it affects racing performance.

"We have done a lot of work in recent years to differentiate between two groups of drugs.

"Integrity is one side but there is a welfare and ethical side as well.

"Horses don't choose to give themselves medication which puts added responsibility on to the trainers."

Hillyer's role has restrictions for if she sees a prohibited substance at a stables she cannot seize it with her only recourse to take samples from the horses to see if they have been doped.

She says it doesn't need a sledgehammer approach to a nut when one has suspicions about a stable or a stud farm.

"A key thing is to make sure that goalposts are clear and those who are prepared to go too close to the line know what that line is.

"However, you don't always need size 12s and a heavyhanded approach."