The theft of Olympic gold medal horse Waterford Crystal's B sample en route to a laboratory in Britain has raised a whole plethora of questions, most important of which is how could a sample, identified solely by a barcode, apparently have been so specifically targeted. Grania Willis, Equestrian Correspondent, reports.
The sample, which was being sent by courier from the central testing laboratory in Paris to the Horseracing Forensic Laboratory (HFL) in Newmarket, disappeared en route, but the theft was not reported to the police until five days later.
In the interim, showjumping's international governing body, the FEI, informed Waterford Crystal's rider Cian O'Connor that the HFL could not process the horse's sample, and that it was being sent on to Hong Kong for confirmatory analysis.
Despite the Cambridgeshire police being brought in on October 26th, O'Connor's solicitor, Mr Andrew Coonan, was told on October 29th that the sample had been despatched to Hong Kong, eight days after the sample had been stolen.
The manner in which the news emerged - 11 days after the theft - is possibly one of the most sinister aspects of the case. If the FEI knew that the sample had been stolen on October 21st, why did they inform Coonan on October 29th that the sample had been sent to Hong Kong?
And why, when the news broke yesterday, did the FEI ask the head of the Paris laboratory to send the samples to Hong Kong with all possible speed?
"At this stage there are more questions than answers, but I don't like what I'm hearing," Ms Avril Doyle said last night.
Commenting in her capacity as president of the Equestrian Federation of Ireland (EFI), the MEP continued: "We don't know yet whether this was the only thing that was stolen, or whether the whole batch was taken from the courier.
"We don't know if it was a targeted theft. We don't know if the sample ever left the lab in Paris. These are all questions we have to get answers to."
What is known is that samples are identified only by a barcode. So, if Waterford Crystal's urine sample was the only item stolen, how was it identified by the thieves?
It is also not yet known what prohibited substances were found in Waterford Crystal's A sample. Cian O'Connor and his vet, Mr James Sheeran, have stated that only "trace elements" of a "mild sedative" were found, even though the international federation has never revealed either the concentrations of the substances, nor their identity.
It is known, however, that a second horse ridden by Cian O'Connor, ABC Landliebe, tested positive to the same sedative at a show in Rome at the end of May.
O'Connor did not request analysis of the B sample from Landliebe and subsequently forfeited his three wins with the mare at the Italian fixture.
It is FEI policy not to reveal the identity of the prohibited substance found in a sample until either the B sample has provided confirmatory analysis, or the rider has chosen to accept sanctions without requesting analysis of the B sample.
But if Waterford Crystal's B sample is not returned, or if it is found to have been tampered with, it seems most likely that the case will simply be dropped by the FEI.
Ms Doyle is not convinced that that is the best ending to this story.
"It's in no-one's interest, least of all Cian's, that we can't proceed to the end of the process so that he has the opportunity to clear his name.
"If he's not afforded that opportunity, if the B sample isn't tested, the whole appeal process ends and that would be very unsatisfactory. We want the opportunity for Cian to restore his name and the horse's reputation."