UK horse racing scandal as leading trainer gets 8-year ban for doping
Mahmood al-Zarooni, centre (Reuters)
By Steve Douglas
A leading trainer for the powerful Godolphin operation was banned for eight years for his part in a major doping scandal that has rocked British horse racing.
Mahmood al-Zarooni admitted to giving 15 horses anabolic steroids at his stables in Newmarket, England, when he attended a disciplinary hearing of the British Horseracing Authority.
All 15 horses were banned from racing by the BHA for six months in a case that has brought embarrassment to Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the owner of Godolphin and the ruler of Dubai.
"Mr. al-Zarooni acted with awful recklessness and caused tremendous damage, not only to Godolphin and British racing," said Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford, who attended the hearing with al-Zarooni.
"I think it will take a very long time for Godolphin to regain the trust of the British public. We're shocked and completely outraged by the actions he has taken."
Al-Zarooni was charged with violating multiple rules related to banned substances, as well as failing to keep medication records and with conduct prejudicial to the sport.
At a routine visit of al-Zarooni's Moulton Paddocks stables on April 9, the BHA tested 45 horses. Seven tested positive for ethylestranol and four for stanozolol - the same steroid found in the urine of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson in his positive test at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
The 37-year-old al-Zarooni told investigating officers that he administered four more horses with the prohibited substances, but they weren't tested when the BHA visited the stables. He said Monday (UKT) the horses he doped weren't racing at the time so he "did not realise that what I was doing was in breach of the rules of racing."
"I would like to apologize to Sheik Mohammed, as well as to all those involved with Godolphin and the public who follow British racing," al-Zarooni said in a statement released on his behalf by the BHA. "I accept that it was my responsibility to be aware of the rules regarding the use of prohibited substances in Britain.
"I can only apologize and repeat what I said in my statement earlier in the week - I have made a catastrophic error."
Crisford said al-Zarooni had mentionedin the hearing the names of three other people - two foremen and a veterinary assistant - who were "involved" in the scandal. However, Crisford said the assistant had not broken any rules because he was unaware what substance he was administering.
The scandal has already caused Sheik Mohammed, arguably horse racing's most illustrious owner, to lock down al-Zarooni's stables and order a round of blood tests for all his horses.
"We believe that it is recognized by all who follow our sport that the circumstances in this particular case are exceptional, not only on account of the profile of the owner in question, but also the number and caliber of the horses involved," BHA chief executive Paul Bittar said in a statement.
Among the banned horses is Certify, who had been the favorite for the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket next month before being pulled out of the race on Monday.
Al-Zarooni, a former stable groom, has trained some high-profile winners, notably Monterosso in the 2012 Dubai World Cup - the world's richest horse race - since being employed by Godolphin in 2010. He also had surprise winners in two of Britain's classics - Blue Bunting in the 1,000 Guineas in 2011 and Encke in the St. Leger in 2012.
He was fined 2,000 pounds ($3,000) in August of last year after urine samples taken from two of his horses were found to contain a banned substance.
Bittar said the latest case highlighted that "there are inconsistencies across international racing jurisdictions regarding what substances are permitted to be used in training."
"While around the world, horseracing bodies quite rightly adopt a zero tolerance policy to the presence of anabolic steroids when carrying out post-race testing, the approach is not so consistent for horses in training," Bittar said. "In an age of increasing international travel and competition we will put the subject on the agenda for discussion with our international colleagues."