By: Greg Wood
The British Horseracing Authority said on Thursday afternoon that it has charged the trainer Hughie Morrison with a serious breach of the anti-doping rules after traces of the anabolic steroid nandrolone and one of its metabolites were found in a sample taken from his filly Our Little Sister after a race at Wolverhampton on 14 January.
Morrison, who has enjoyed three victories in Group 1 events and saddled almost 800 winners in a 21-year training career, insisted that he is mystified by the positive test, which was returned by one of the poorest horses in his stable after she had finished last of eight runners. He learned of the positive result when a team of BHA investigators conducted a dawn raid in early February and tested all 77 horses in his stable in East Ilsley, Berkshire, for steroids. All the horses, including Our Little Sister, tested negative.
Under the “strict liability” rules that govern doping offences, however, the single positive from Our Little Sister in mid-January could result in Morrison being banned from the sport for up to 10 years. The BHA adopted a “zero tolerance” policy on steroids after the Mahmood Al-Zarooni scandal in 2013, when the Newmarket trainer was found to have conducted systematic steroid doping on at least two dozen horses in his stable.
“I’m the responsible person [at the stable] and I understand that,” Morrison said, “but I’ve got to leave no stone unturned. I’ve basically got to find the culprit to prove my innocence. I’m doing everything I can to get to the bottom of it. I’ve reported it to Thames Valley Police and I have offered a reward to see if this could take things forward.”
The BHA said on Thursday that it had “carried out all reasonable enquiries it can with the full cooperation of Mr Morrison”, and urged anyone with information in relation to the case to contact RaceStraight, its confidential helpline. Its disciplinary panel is expected to consider the case in late June or early July.
This case will be the first significant disciplinary hearing involving a positive test for steroids since the BHA introduced its zero tolerance policy in the summer of 2014. The fact that it involves “strict liability”, which effectively forces Morrison to prove his innocence rather than requiring the regulator to establish his guilt, also puts added pressure on the BHA to ensure that the proceedings are conducted as fairly and openly as possible.
Even at this relatively early stage, there are some puzzling aspects to this case which will demand explanation if a trainer’s reputation and livelihood, and possibly the jobs of dozens of members of staff, are at risk.
The first is that the sample from Our Little Sister after her run at Wolverhampton is the only positive involved – indeed, the only positive for a banned substance ever returned by a runner from the yard. Had Morrison being running an organised doping programme in the manner of Zarooni, more positives would surely have emerged when the investigators tested his entire string.
Our Little Sister, one of the most lowly rated animals in the yard, would have been a very odd horse to single out for doping with steroids. There were also no unusual betting patterns around the race concerned, in which she finished last.
Morrison saidon Thursday that Our Little Sister had been left alone for two hours in the stables at Southwell racecourse on 3 January, while his staff attended to another runner that had sustained an injury.
Morrison says could have been deliberately doped by someone with a grudge against him, and since she was selected for an apparently random test following her next start 12 days’ later, 3 January was one possible time when could have occurred. CCTV footage from the Southwell racecourse stables would normally be wiped after 60 days, but since the BHA knew of the positive test in early February, it is to be hoped that its investigators ensured that any recordings that might significant managed to escape the routine purge.