High on the Horse – Doping in Horce Racing

October 21, 2013


By Miranda Schmold – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Ross Rebagliati, Alex Rodriguez, Joe Canseco, and of course, Lance Armstrong, have all become household names, not only for the achievements in their respective sports, but also for the doping scandals that have propelled many of them to worldwide notoriety. These world class athletes, and in some cases, Olympians, have all experienced, in one way or another, the public outrage at their use of performance enhancing or banned substances. But what if we started to associate doping with athletes like “I’ll Have Another,” “Animal Kingdom,” “Super Saver,” or “Mine that Bird”? These of course are neither the names of human athletes, nor have these athletes been associated with doping, but rather are the names of the winning horses from the past four Kentucky Derby horse races. I use these names as examples of what we could start seeing in terms of the newest athletes associated with doping in sports.

The horse racing community was rocked by a doping scandal on April 9, 2013 when fifteen horses in Moulton Paddocks, UK tested positive for the prohibited anabolic steroids stanozolol and ethylestranol. Although the use of performance enhancing substances in racehorses is nothing new, what brought this scandal to the world stage is the fact that these fifteen horses are part of the mega-racing enterprise belonging to the monarch of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. Sheikh Mohammed established the horse racing operation, Godolphin in 1992, which has since grown into 5,000 horses, in stables across 12 countries, who compete in races worldwide. Godolphin is worth billions and boasts winnings from over 200 top-level races. Mahmood Al-Zarooni was the trainer of these horses, who at the time was operating out of Godolphin’s Newmarket stables and was the one everyone looked to for answers.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is the United Kingdom’s regulatory body. In a tribunal held near the end of April 2013, the BHA found that Al-Zarooni had breached their Rules of Racing. Although Al-Zarooni claimed he was not aware that he was using prohibited substances, the BHA nonetheless found him guilty. A BHA disciplinary panel gave Al-Zarooni an eight year ban and the horses that tested positive are not permitted to race for six months. Sheikh Mohammed has since outlawed the import, sale, purchase and use of steroids in equine sports in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and has made the use of anabolic steroids on sport horses a criminal offence. This has had the result of implementing even stricter rules than those employed in Britain.

For many in the horse racing world this has raised the question of, what can be done to achieve global uniformity in anti-doping rules in the sport of horse racing? Of course many associate the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and its World Anti-Doping Code (WADC) to an international anti-doping regime applied to sports played by humans, but what about a regulatory authority governing those sports involving non-human animals? Horse racing does have an international body called the International Federation of Horseracing Authority (IFHA), but it mainly oversees breeding, racing and betting, not doping.

One option could be for the IFHA, BHA and other horseracing bodies to sign onto the World Anti-Doping Code. In 2003 the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS) did just that. The IFSS established and implemented their own anti-doping rules and procedures in compliance with the WADC, which apply to both human and canine athletes. In an effort to establish international and uniform anti-doping rules that apply to both human and equine athletes, it would benefit those involved with the sport of horse racing to either develop their own international anti-doping agency, or align themselves with the World Anti-Doping Agency and comply with their anti-doping code.

Establishing international and consistent anti-doping rules and procedures for the sport of horse racing has the benefit of not only protecting both human and horse athlete, but also maintaining the spirit of the sport. Through the promotion of anti-doping in sport, WADA seeks to preserve the spirit of sport, and signatories sign on with the understanding that doping is contrary to upholding this spirit. WADA values ethics, fair play, honesty, health, and respect for rules and laws, among others. Becoming a signatory to the WADC would benefit the sport of horse racing in many ways, again, through the protection of the health of their athletes, both human and non-human animals, and through embracing values of ethics, fair play, honesty, and others.

In an effort to keep names like “I’ll Have Another,” “Animal Kingdom,” “Super Saver,” and “Mine that Bird” out of the media and the doping scandals that seem to be plaguing the sporting community, horse racing should look to the development of an international anti-doping organization or join forces with the already established governing authority of WADA, this would hopefully lead to stories like the one involving Sheikh Mohammed becoming less frequent.

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