Should we be subjecting our trainers and stable staff to random drug and alcohol testing on the same basis as we do our jockeys on raceday? This thought follows the news that the Australian Racing Board are considering introducing compliance levels for alcohol and drug testing for trainers, stablehands and any ‘horse-handler.’
The Australians, much like the Yanks, appear to have a knack of over-reacting and making a mountain out of a veritable molehill. Under proposed amendments to the Aussie Racing Rules, trainers would be subjected to drug testing and a 0.02 alcohol level.
But the suggestion is not going down as smoothly as an Avontuur Pinotage. Like the recent whip rules debacle in the United Kingdom, it is being digested like a brake-fluid on the rocks and the NSW Trainers Association has asked for an urgent meeting with the ARB and Racing NSW Chief Executive Peter V’landys. NSWTA chief executive Steve McMahon said if the ARB was so concerned about occupational health and safety it should concentrate on improving the state of race and training tracks.“We would never condone the abuse of drugs and alcohol and all we are asking at this stage is a common sense approach,” McMahon said.
One of the proposed rule changes could see any `horse handler’ with a blood alcohol reading of 0.02 fined or suspended. “If a stablehand has a night out with his or her mates and has a few drinks and then wakes up at 3am to sweep and clean the stables and they are 0.03, under these rules they could lose their job. It’s hard enough as it is getting staff who are willing to wake up at 3am to clean out horse stables and feed horses for relatively low wages”, said McMahon.
As in South Africa, jockeys are subjected to drug and alcohol testing in Australia and one leading Sydney trainer recently claiming four out of 10 apprentices used recreational drugs. Is it any different here in South Africa? We don’t generally have trainers who are prepared to be so outspoken on sensitive issues, but we are probably no different. On the flipside, we can proudly boast of our two shining examples in top heavyweight jockeys Andrew Fortune and Brandon Morgenrood , who are role models for turning lives around after their own personal showdowns with the chemical phantoms. There have been other less publicised cases and we have not heard of a promising young Cape apprentice by the name of Luke Coleman for over a year now. Did he fall through the cracks?
The Australians were rocked by the recent suspension of star apprentice Josh Adams for seven months because of drugs. Drugs also destroyed the career of Jamie Quinnell, while the promising Mitch Beadman, son of star Aussie jockey Darren Beadman, and Daniel Ganderton, put their careers on hold indefinitely to sort out alcohol abuse issues. Beadman and Ganderton were never tested positive, but were regularly under fire from the Stipes for their wayward behaviour. Ganderton, said he never took drugs but “wasted thousands on alcohol.”
The suggestion or thought that South African horseracing would follow the example proposed by our friends Down Under to subject trainers to this level of invasion is likely to cause an outcry in a country where social alcohol use is almost a way of life. And where smoking marijuana or dagga is a culture amongst a large percentage of our grooms. And if you are feeling sensitive about the national tag, consider that six out of ten drivers that die in accidents here have dangerously high alcohol levels in their blood. That on our roads, 50% of truck drivers and 30% of taxi drivers involved in accidents had been drinking or smoking marijuana. Of the 3000 adult pedestrians that are killed in accidents, 70% of them are drunk when killed and when you are on the road at night, one out of every seven drivers sharing the road with you is drunk. Scary statistics!
Not wishing to make light of a very serious social problem -but the bright side of all this will mean that the Stipes, the Starter, the Handlers and even our Vets, will all surely be subjected to the same rules? Now you’re talking…