To the clear outrage of his boss, Sheikh Mohammed, Mahmood Al Zarooni has in effect accepted that he has broken the rules of British racing by permitting the giving of anabolic steroids to horses in his care in Newmarket.
The biggest 'casualty' in terms of racing is Certify, a leading fancy which will now miss the Guineas next month, but this story has far deeper implications for the sport I love.

The nominal punishment is an apparently brutal 8 year ban but in one sense it matters little as Zarooni is unlikely to work for his Godolphin bosses again in the future. Sympathy however is tempered as a man of his means is unlikely to lack for other opportunities outside the sport. He won't be permitted on a British racecourse for that period of time.

What it does do though is send a powerful message that British racing will not tolerate use of steroids. On the face of it that is something I applaud even (below) though there is relatively little concrete evidence as to whether they make a substantial difference to performance or long term health of the horses.

But was Godolphin's posturing an attempt at damage limitation or does it mask something much deeper?


The conspiracy theorists have already had it right away, calling for a shutdown of the entire Godolphin operation and all manner of sanctions. That of course, at least at this stage,without new evidence or testing, would be utter nonsense in my view.

If the owner of a football team finds his left winger has been taking illegal substances he doesn't close down the whole team and club. He suspends the player and the authorities deal with the matter.

That's not to say Godolphin does not now face wider questions and I'm sure these will be asked in coming weeks and months - and answers will need to satisfy an understandably and justifiably sceptical racing community.

The BHA have dealt swiftly in bringing the matter to justice and swift conclusion, helped by Zarooni's apparent co-operation.

Anabolic steroids of course raise an understandable and immediate emotional response. It's hard not to instantly think of Ben Johnson's 100 metre Olympic gold and the longer term health implications that go with impact on muscle mass and beyond, on humans. 
The assumption of course is an easy one to follow through and think horses will be impacted in the same way. But the evidence is actually thin and views conflicting. A rare survey in the US, a few years ago, found little evidence of longer term implications for example, while initial veterinary opinion in the UK appears divided to the effects short and long term on horses. Further research is undoubtedly required.


Infact what few outside the racing community may realise is that in many other parts of the World, steroid application is entirely legal, as long as no trace is found on race day. French research would indicate that the steroids stay in the horse's system for 30-45 days, after which it can't be detected. Clearly in this case by suspending the horses for six months the BHA have taken veterinary advice and presumably leaned to the safe side of any impact of the drugs.

In Australia it is legitimate and reportedly common practice. One wonders if this was more widely understood as to whether crowds would have descended on Royal Ascot to roar home Black Caviar and previous Aussie winners at the Blue Riband meeting of British flat racing? 
I'm not indicating or suggesting for a moment that at any point any of them have received the 'treatment' however it would be fascinating to know, and there's nothing anyone in Britain could do about it. As I say perfectly legal if administered in Australia and no traces by raceday in the UK.

British trainers down the years have been happy enough to play by US rules at Breeders Cup meetings, using lasix to reduce the impact of the jarring effects of fast ground, a substance banned here.

As I understand it, the same rules apply to anabolic steroids in the UAE as Australia. Perhaps application 'out of racing season' is regular there, or not, i just don't know, (it might explain Zarooni's apparent ignorance of UK rules, though makes it no less acceptable not to know the rules), but the irony of some "dissing" the success of De Kock's South African raider Shea Shea on World Cup night, beating a 10 year old 1 length or so, and about an hour later trumpeting a credible result as Godolphin's Sajjhaa won well, (and I've no doubt, cleanly), is not lost now. It's never easy to second guess anything! indeed Sajjhaa is due to run in Japan at the weekend.

Further to the irony, in human terms the UAE has some of the strictest drug law administrations in the World. Just ask the lady who wishes she hadn't had a sesame roll at Geneva airport. Traces were found on her arrival in Dubai and it took Amnesty International months to obtain her release from prison.

I saw one media report using the word 'rife' to describe under a dozen horses being found to have steroid traces in the UAE in 'endurance racing'. That's not racing in the sense we are talking about here, but it made for a story, especially given that one of the riders suspended was a member of the Godolphin operation, but 'Rife'... Really?

The South African horses undergo giant disadvantages just to compete in the UAE due to a South African notifiable horse virus, spending no less than eight months in quarantine (one raider, Emotif, almost died in quarantine this year as a result of conditions). I can't imagine bookies being swamped by bets for Shea Shea at 3/1 for Royal Ascot, hugely out of season after a torrid 12 months. Indeed a strike rate of 2/22 with his first time out raiders at the Carnival shows what disadvantages the De Kock team face.

Comparing De Kock's record in Dubai with his achievements in other parts of the World are meaningless, a bit like saying Richard Hannon doesn't have many winners in Dubai.


I digress somewhat. This isn't the first steroid issue to occur in British racing, a vet at Nicky Henderson's yard was found to have administered a substance to a horse in 2009 and there have been other substance abuse cases over the years. 

James Millman, trainer's son and ex-jockey, said on William Hill radio that there he had come across occasional examples of out of season testing in the UK. I'm not attempting to provide answers here, that is for others, but assuming the comment to be accurate, as I do, then as long as all steroid use remains banned in the UK, the testing procedure may require a major overhaul. 
Costs of course make that a difficult issue, nevertheless one that does require action. 

Any attempt to have a World Governing Body which would attempt to unify the Rules of Racing Worldwide would have massive implications for the sport and most likely take many many years of hard work. Even stewards inquiries are governed by different rules in different territories and the task may well prove too onerous. it has been mooted in the past but it's hard to imagine success. That's not to say it couldn't be looked at again, but for now the attitude seems to remain 'When in Rome...'


The fact that this has occurred in the Zarooni yard has been largely responsible for the raising of the wider international questions. 
I've no reason whatever to think it might be, sincerely hope it isn't, but let us hope that it does not prove in time to have been a convenient distraction for any other yards throughout the UK and Ireland, or elsewhere!

That said, if there are other trainers anywhere thinking 'There but for the grace of God...' then this judgement will have served a massively valuable purpose and done British racing, which in my view remains a wonderful and overall remarkably clean product, warts and all, a mighty favour......

ABOVE UPDATED FOLLOWING VERDICT. Would appreciate a few RTs on twitter please, meanwhile thanks for reading and let me know your opinion!

My regular flat racing blog is scheduled to return in the next fortnight. Thanks for reading, remember the above article represents entirely my personal opinions.