Trainers fear racing's new anti-doping rules could tarnish reputations

Jon Lees
·2-min read
A general view of the runners and riders as they jump the seventh during the Guinness Galway Tribes Handicap Hurdle - Sportsfile
A general view of the runners and riders as they jump the seventh during the Guinness Galway Tribes Handicap Hurdle - Sportsfile

Trainers fear that the introduction of suspended disqualifications for doping offences announced on Wednesday by the British Horseracing Authority could tarnish their reputations irrevocably if they cannot prove the source of a prohibited substance.

Changes to the rules, that come into effect from the beginning of next month, chiefly address the circumstances in which a trainer, as the responsible person, can avoid a penalty for a positive sample.

This follows a review in the wake of a number of high-profile inquiries, the outcomes of which punched a hole in the BHA’s commitment to zero tolerance on doping.

These included the case of Our Little Sister in 2017, who tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone. Trainer Hughie Morrison was convinced he was the victim of a malicious doping but, unable to prove it, was at risk of a disqualification. However, although an independent disciplinary panel found him guilty, they issued only a £1,000 fine.

In another landmark case, Philip Hobbs escaped without a penalty after his horse Keep Moving tested positive for a hay fever remedy which he was also unable to explain. The BHA appealed against the decision and, when that was unsuccessful, pledged to review the rules.

Even though the BHA has mitigated the burden of strict liability on trainers with restructured penalties, the National Trainers Federation said the changes were “a mixed bag”.

“The NTF is pleased that the BHA took on board the need to remove penalties where malicious administration could be proved,” said chief executive Rupert Arnold.

“However, strict liability reverses the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ by putting the onus on the defendant to prove innocence – in this case by having to prove the precise source of the prohibited substance. This is notoriously difficult to do.”

In future the lowest level breaches can result in a caution and in the most serious cases, such as those involving anabolic steroids, a suspended disqualification and fine have now replaced automatic disqualification as the minimum penalty.

Arnold said: “Our only argument is that if you have taken all the right precautions then a trainer ought to have just a financial penalty. Even a suspended disqualification is a black mark against you that is going to be there in the public imagination. That’s quite serious reputation damage in our view.”

The BHA’s director of integrity and regulation Tim Naylor said: “It is our hope that we now have a set of equine anti-doping rules, which are clear both for those who enforce them and those who are bound by them.”