By: Chris Cook
Racing’s ruling body is to double the amount of dope-testing it conducts away from the racecourse as part of its effort to combat the sophistication of modern doping methods. The British Horseracing Authority also plans to take more raceday samples this year than in the past, under the guidance of Brant Dunshea, who became the director of integrity and raceday operations in October.
Speaking exclusively to the Guardian during last week’s Cheltenham Festival, Dunshea said around 700 samples had been taken from British-based horses out of competition in 2015. This year that number is estimated to be somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400, with much of the focus on the buildup to the sport’s major events.
BHA testers dropped in unannounced on eight racing stables in the 10 days before the latest Festival, taking samples from horses expected to run there. “Much of the strategy is about testing the right horse at the right time for the right substance,” Dunshea said.
“We intend to do similar [testing] around our big festivals and at other random times throughout the year. That’s all part of developing a strategic approach that is robust, that is unpredictable but also puts a lot of focus on the key events, so that those participants who are doing the right thing, and the public, can be sure that we’re not just turning up on raceday and taking samples.”
Dunshea envisages that out-of-competition testing will continue to grow as a proportion of all testing carried out by the BHA in future years. “Particularly over the last decade the sort of substances that are prohibited at all times are substances that would be administered as part of a treatment regime, out of competition. And that’s been evident in other sports, such as cycling and so forth. On raceday you may not necessarily detect it but the benefit which they give to the animal or athlete remains.”
Asked for his assessment of the threat posed to the sport by doping, Dunshea said: “The vast majority of individuals are doing the right thing and seeking to do the right thing. Our energy and focus are on protecting [them] and deterring those that are seeking to do the wrong thing.”
Immediate post-race testing is also to be increased this year, to around 8,700 samples from 7,182 in 2012. The BHA expects to take 600 samples pre-race, compared with 195 in 2015, pre-race testing being primarily focused on alkalising agents that could delay the production of lactic acid during exercise, a kind of doping known as milkshaking.
Raceday testing of jockeys has also increased, 2,000 breath samples being taken last year, double the 2015 total, while 436 urine samples were taken compared with 295 the previous year. The plan is to maintain or increase those numbers this year.
The BHA’s anti-doping programme also takes in horses coming to race here from other countries. If they come from a country recognised as maintaining similar standards, those horses may be tested; if not, they certainly will be tested, Dunshea said. Young horses purchased overseas for racing in Britain are also tested, with the result, for example, that a batch of horses were tested by the BHA at Keeneland sales in Kentucky last year.
The BHA is prepared to discuss possible changes to the declaration system for Cheltenham Festival races, following repeated suggestions in the past week that the present system is outmoded. While final entries for a handful of the best Festival races are made 48 hours in advance, declarations for most races are made the day before, provoking annual resentment among the media, punters and bookmakers.
A spokesman for the BHA said: “We would be happy to look at the declaration system for the Festival in conjunction with Cheltenham and other parties that would be affected.” The BHA worked hard for years to persuade trainers and owners to accept the 48-hour system now used in Flat racing.
Minella Rocco, who had been favourite for the Grand National after running second in Friday’s Gold Cup, is to skip the Aintree race. His trainer, Jonjo O’Neill, said the seven-year-old had a hard race last week and would now be targeted at next year’s Gold Cup rather than being rushed back to the track a fortnight on Saturday.
O’Neill expects More Of That to represent him in the National, while Shutthefrontdoor will go for the Irish equivalent. David Pipe’s Vieux Lion Rouge is the new National favourite at 11-1.
2.10 Fairlee Grey 2.40 The Nipper 3.10 Buttercup 3.40 Sammy B 4.10 Sunny Ledgend 4.40 Cracking Find
5.45 Broughtons Fancy 6.15 Sabador 6.45 Red Caravel 7.15 Saleh 7.45 Cultured Knight 8.15 Shalianzi 8.45 Krazy Paving 9.15 Just Over
2.00 Tranquil Daze 2.30 Codeshare 3.00 Wefait 3.30 Hamelin (nb) 4.00 Ticks The Boxes 4.30 Glorious Politics 5.00 Spirit Of The Vale
2.20 Robbin’hannon 2.50 Multiculture 3.20 Towering 3.50 Braw Angus (nap) 4.20 Listen To The Man 4.50 Royals And Rebels