Godolphin trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni has been suspended for eight years and the 15 horses that tested positive for one of two anabolic steroids have been suspended from racing for six months.
One of the horses affected is Certify, who was a leading contender for the One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) before she tested positive.
Al Zarooni was sanctioned following a hearing of the British Horseracing Authority’s disciplinary panel that met today (April 25).
“We believe that the eight-year disqualification issued to Mahmood Al Zarooni by the disciplinary panel, together with the six month racing restriction placed on the horses in question by the BHA, will serve to reassure the public, and the sport’s participants, that use of performance-enhancing substances in British racing will not be tolerated and that the sport has in place a robust and effective anti-doping and medication control program,” said Paul Bittar, the BHA’s chief executive.
The Godolphin scandal erupted after the routine checks by the BHA of 45 of Al Zarooni’s horses April 9 showed positive test results for ethylestranol and stanozolol, which is the same steroid found in the urine of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson in his positive test at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. A total of 15 horses tested positive.
“The length of suspension reflects the period beyond which the BHA is confident that the horses in question can have derived no performance related benefit from the administration of these prohibited substances,” said Jamie Stier, director of raceday operations and regulations for the BHA.
The six-month suspension, effective as of April 9 and ending Oct. 8, affects the following horses: Artigiano (twice group stakes-placed), Bathrat Amal (unraced), Certify (undefeated multiple group I winner), Comitas (unraced), Desert Blossom (unraced), Fair Hill (unraced), Ghostflower (placed), Opinion Poll (multiple group II winner), Orkney Island (unraced), Restraint of Trade (winner), Sashiko (unraced), Sweet Rose (unraced), Tearless (unraced), Vacationer (unraced), and Valley of Queens (placed).
The decision regarding the suspension was made by the BHA, not by the disciplinary panel.
“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,” Bittar said. “However, we also believe the outcome is an endorsement for the effectiveness of British racing’s dope testing program.”
After the initial testing turned up a number of positives, Bittar said the BHA’s first priority was to establish how the steroids turned up in the samples.
Al Zarooni immediately admitted to administering the drugs, saying he thought the drugs were allowed out of racing. Anabolic steroids under the British Rules of Racing are prohibited at any time, in racing or training.
“I deeply regret what has happened,” Al Zarooni said in a Godolphin release dated April 22. “I have made a catastrophic error. Because the horses involved were not racing at the time, I did not realize that what I was doing was in breach of the rules of racing. I can only apologize for the damage this will cause to Godolphin and to racing generally.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and the owner of Goldolphin, reacted quickly as well, by locking down his stables at Newmarket and conducting a thorough testing of all horses stabled there. He was reportedly “appalled and angered” by the incident.
“The next objective for BHA is to take the necessary steps to ensure that overall confidence in the integrity of the sport is not at risk,” Bittar continued. “We welcome the proactive response of Godolphin and Sheikh Mohammed in announcing their intention to review the procedures of this stable and the need to ensure that all horses formerly trained by Mahmood Al Zarooni are tested and cleared before they race again.
“The BHA will conduct the testing of the horses with the analytical work being carried out by HFL Sport Science. Godolphin have stated they will cooperate fully with this process. In addition, we will also provide advice to Godolphin of necessary changes to its procedures and controls where appropriate, and this will be supported by Godolphin’s own review.”
Bittar said the BHA will not stop with the disciplining of Al Zarooni and continue conducting interviews of other Godolphin employees or contractors in order to identify ways to further improve its drug monitoring program.
Bittar added that the case shines a light on the inconsistencies of drug policies across racing jurisdictions.
“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,” he said.