More Godolphin horses test positive for stanozolol
Last year’s St Leger winner Encke among new positive tests at Zarooni yard
The capacity of the Godolphin doping scandal both to shock and amaze shows no sign of diminishing. The initial revelation that 15 horses at Mahmood al-Zarooni’s Moulton Paddocks stable in Newmarket had tested positive for anabolic steroids was extraordinary and so too the speed - just four days - with which the trainer was charged, tried and banned for eight years. Then came the unexpected news that Zarooni was planning an appeal and yesterday we learned that seven more horses at the yard, including Encke, last year’s St Leger winner, have since tested positive for steroids too.
The latest discovery is, in its way, the most remarkable of all. This is not just because of what it suggests about the sheer scale of the doping operation at Moulton Paddocks, but also because it hints at how little we still know about what went on at Zarooni’s yard and also how much may never be known about performances like that of Encke, who frustrated Camelot’s attempt to win the Triple Crown.
On the face of it, seven more positives to add to the 15 involved in the initial case against Zarooni is not an overwhelming number. Saeed bin Suroor’s string, of an equivalent size, has also been tested, with no positive results. When set in the context of time, however, the implication is that the doping operation at Moulton Paddocks was being conducted on an extraordinary scale.
All seven of the latest positives were for stanozolol, which can remain in a horse’s system for up to 40 days. Zarooni is also known to have used ethylestranol, which clears the system much more rapidly, usually in less than a week. The evidence of the initial hearing into the case, meanwhile, suggested that Zarooni used stanozolol on colts and ethylestranol on fillies.
The British Horseracing Authority’s original testing team visited Moulton Paddocks on 9 April and took samples from 45 horses, of which 11 tested positive for either stanozolol or ethylestranol (Zarooni himself later added four extra names to his charge sheet). The BHA then started testing the rest of the string on 29 April.
Assuming - if we can - that no horses were doped after 9 April, any trace of ethylestranol would have been long gone by 29 April. Even stanozolol would have been starting to disappear, as some horses will be clean after as little as 20 days. So the fact that seven were still positive at least 20 days after the first round of tests suggests that the doping had been going on until the moment the BHA team arrived on 9 April and that others in the string may have been doped but were not tested in time.
When the BHA came up with 11 positives from 45 in its first sweep through Moulton Paddocks, it seemed likely that the team had been acting on intelligence received and had a fair idea which of the horses to test. Now, it appears just as likely that they were not looking for particular horses and the initial 45 was just a representative sample. That, in turn, would suggest that in a yard with nearly 200 horses, perhaps about 50 were on steroids.
Even at the end of the 19th century, when “dope” of all kinds had yet to be banned and cocaine was the go-faster drug of choice, there has never been a doping programme to match the scale and audacity of this one. Perhaps the sheer enormity of the situation was still being digested in the BHA’s High Holborn offices when Zarooni’s colt Improvisation won at the Craven meeting on 17 April and was not subsequently tested, even though at least some of the results from the 9 April tests should have been known.
That is an embarrassment for the BHA, but far less of a cause for concern than the speed with which the original inquiry was completed. It seemed like conveyor-belt justice at the time and every subsequent turn in the story has emphasised how much has yet to be uncovered, and how severely the decision to cast out Zarooni in less than a week may have restricted the Authority’s ability to uncover it.
The reason why anabolic steroids are seen as such a serious threat to the integrity of racing is that their positive effects persist even when the substance itself has long since left a horse’s system.
Encke tested negative for drugs both in mid-August 2012 and then after winning the Leger the next month, but that does not mean for certain that he was not doped last year too. Stanozolol injections in the spring would have helped him to recover from the winter, put on muscle and condition and stand harder training than would otherwise have been the case. Even if the doping stopped 40 days before his seasonal debut in July, the benefits could still have been there on 15 September.
The possibility that racing was denied a Triple Crown winner in Camelot, the Leger runner-up, by a horse who had been doped with steroids was raised as soon as news of the initial tests at Moulton Paddocks was released.
Even when the final reports have been published and racing starts to try to move on, however, the question about Encke and whether he was doped before winning the St Leger is likely to remain. And, thanks to the poisonous nature of anabolic steroids, which leave suspicions lingering when all traces of the drug have gone, it is a question that will probably never have an answer.