By: Ikram Khan
Close on the heels of the Queen Latifa doping episode – which led to much mudslinging, heartburn and a subsequent CID probe by the government – comes another drug controversy which could mar the reputation of the Bangalore Turf Club (BTC). Realising the seriousness of the issue, and the fact that it could snowball into a major drug scandal, the stewards of the club have swiftly initiated an inquiry.
A female sex hormone, Premarin, was administered to a male horse, Rafa, in trainer S Dominic’s yard by Satish, a private veterinarian. Although use of hormones and steroids is banned, some old-school vets use Premarin to prevent internal bleeding in horses due to stress when they perform at optimum levels; horses suffering from this condition are put in the EIPH (exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage) list. While it is normal to notice traces of blood in the lungs after a steed has run a hard race, horses that have a chronic condition – which manifests itself through nasal bleeding – are put on the list.
Premarin, an estrogen-therapy drug, is also used by menopausal women to control hot flashes (which occur due to reduced estrogen levels). Equine veterinarians are livid that it was used on Rafa – and not just because Premarin is produced from the urine of a pregnant mare (on its website, Peta has detailed how the mares are subjected to intolerable cruelty to obtain the hormone). They say that injecting the female hormone in male horses is not only cruel, it could also lead to a change in behaviour and attitude and in some cases; in others, it could have a volatile effect perhaps even leading to death.
‘Shocked’ that a banned hormone was administered to Rafa, BTC Chief Veterinary Officer, B Sridhar, conducted a raid on trainer Dominic’s yard and later questioned him along with the veterinarian; he told Bangalore Mirror that he explained to them that hormones and steroids were banned drugs and not to be used unless prior permission was obtained and sanction provided, solely for the welfare of the horse.
Sridhar disclosed that the private vet, Satish, and Dominic admitted to the offence. “The trainer revealed that he was aware that Premarin was injected to treat his horse Rafa and prevent his blood vessels from bursting during the race. He claimed that he didn’t know that Premarin was a sex hormone. Satish, to my surprise and astonishment, declared that he had treated many horses in the campus with Premarin before admitting his mistake,” he said.
Sridhar said that injecting female sex hormone into a male horse brings about many changes in its body. “It has a definite impact on the health of the horse and does nothing to stop the bleeding, for which some vets administer Premarin. That’s exactly why this drug has been banned,” he said.
The chief vet also said he was surprised that some trainers were seeking the services of veterinarians who are not even aware of the medication rules in horse racing. “One should know all the medication rules and guidelines concerning the sport. The rules and regulations are in place to provide transparency and you cannot violate the system,” he said.
BTC chairman Harimohan Naidu said that an enquiry had been initiated and the report would be out in the next 24 hours. “Based on the findings of the report we will take action against the offenders,” he said, adding that as per rules Rafa will not be allowed to race for six months.
Incidentally, Rafa had tested positive for Procaine Penicillin, a painkiller, when he won a race during the winter season. However, since the permitted levels are 10 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), the trainer did not face any suspension as the horse had shown the presence of only six ng/ml. Ironically, trainer Neil Darashah, whose horse Queen Latifa came positive for 1.4 ng/ml for the same drug, was suspended.