By: Chris Cook
Action must be taken over the surprisingly widespread problem of stable staff urinating into racehorses’ bedding, according to a trainer who has now had a runner disqualified as a result of such behaviour.
Dean Ivory, who was in the news over the weekend when his Lancelot Du Lac won the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood, spoke out after Wotadoll was revealed to have a metabolite of the painkiller Tramadol in her system when she ran unplaced at Wolverhampton last year.
An investigation has now concluded this was probably caused by Shane Cuddy, a stable lad, urinating in Wotadoll’s box while he was mucking out. A British Horseracing Authority disciplinary panel was impressed by how seriously Ivory took the matter but still fined him £750.
“I’m disappointed with the outcome,” Ivory said, “and I’m disgusted a member of staff has ever done that. But when we talked to Jon Dunne [a BHA investigator], it seems everybody’s doing it.
“And it’s happening at the races as well,” Ivory added, alluding to an incident at York in May involving an employee of Hughie Morrison. He also pointed to a 2014 case involving the trainer David Elsworth, who was fined £1,000 for “contaminating the bedding” in the box reserved for taking samples from horses at Newmarket.
“If people like David Elsworth are doing it, that doesn’t show right to members of staff,” Ivory said. “And how can I stop anybody from urinating in a box? People have got to be made more aware of it but if I put a sign out in the yard saying: ‘Please don’t urinate in the boxes’, owners coming in here will think we’re a right tinpot little firm. And yet we’re not at all, we’ve got a toilet block right by the stable yard, so there’s no excuse for it.
“All this could have been avoided if trainers and staff were made aware of the fact this is happening and the consequences. It was a nightmare and I was very embarrassed by it all. I feel I’ve been penalised and fined over something that didn’t enhance the horse’s performance, which I didn’t know was going on.
“I’ve had to give the owners a month’s training fees over it. It’s caused me a lot of stress and worry. I think the BHA have handled it incorrectly and I do feel very much let down. We need the teamwork of the National Trainers Federation and the National Association Of Stable Staff because this is very embarrassing, not just for me but the whole industry.
“I spoke to other trainers and only one out of 14 was aware this can happen.” He added Cuddy had since left his employ for unrelated reasons.
This is by no means the first case in which a horse is thought to have tested positive after contamination by a member of stable staff urinating in the animal’s stable. BHA officials believed that was the cause of a positive test in 2008, though no mention of it was made in the eventual report, while it was described as a possible cause in last year’s case involving Plucky Dip, trained by John Ryan.
“It’s not at all unusual,” said George McGrath, the chief executive of NAOSS, when asked about staff urinating in stables. “The reason is the pressure you’re under at work. At some of the bigger yards, the toilet facilities might be 200 yards away and it’s so easy for staff to relieve themselves in the box and not understand the risks they’re taking by doing so.”
McGrath sympathised with Ivory’s call for more education on the subject and said NAOSS would do what it could to highlight the issue through its newsletter, its website and an app for staff which is being developed. “I’m pretty sure staff would be stunned if I said to them, ‘Do you realise that if you’re on medication, legal or illegal, and you relieve yourself into a horse’s box, there’s a very real chance of cross-contamination?’”
Ivory, who said he had never had a positive test in 16 years with a licence, was also fined £750 for a positive test affecting his Links Drive Lady, who apparently ingested hay fever medication being taken by her groom. The mare tested positive for Cetirizine, an antihistamine, and was disqualified from a race she won at Windsor in June last year.
In this case, Ivory praised his member of staff, Alex Humphries, for the amount of attention she lavished on the horse and pointed out that Links Drive Lady won ’best turned out’ that day. “It’s on her skin, on her hands,” he said of the hay fever medication. “I guess, on a warm day, she’s perspired a bit, as you do, and somehow it’s been passed on to the horse.”
Ivory has since employed a former policeman to rewrite his health and safety rules and his contracts of employment, which now include a specific rule against urinating in stables. The BHA’s panel also noted he now maintains a formal register of medication being taken by staff and makes it a condition of their employment they keep it up to date. He also provides and encourages the use of plastic gloves.