O’Briens count the ‘incredible’ cost of contaminated feed saga

Trainers are unsure of when they can run horses again after withdrawals in France

Aidan O’Brien plans to take daily samples from his horses as the shambolic fallout continues from a contaminated feed saga that prevented the champion trainer’s runners taking part in Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

On Saturday night, Ireland’s champion trainer was forced to take out all his runners from Sunday’s Longchamp card – including four in the Arc itself – due to positive test results from a French laboratory for the prohibited substance Zilpaterol.

O’Brien’s sons, Joseph and Donnacha, also withdrew their intended runners at Longchamp.

In all 11 Irish-trained horses were forced out of one of world racing’s most prestigious meetings on the back of the Gain Equine Nutrition firm confirming that batches of its feed had become contaminated with Zilpaterol.


O’Brien and his sons are among many trainers in Ireland and Britain who use Gain products. They have switched feeds but are unclear about when they will be able to have runners again.

O’Brien Snr said samples taken from his intended Longchamp runners tested negative at the Irish Equine Centre for Zilpaterol, a substance used in the US and elsewhere to promote weight gain mostly in cattle. However samples returned a positive result at a lab in France.

It meant the contaminant could still have been in the horses systems by race-time on Sunday and “in order to protect the integrity of racing” both O’Brien and his sons withdrew their runners.

On Sunday O’Brien described the cost of being forced out of Sunday’s racing as “incredible.”

He declined to put a value on the debacle although €72,000 alone was paid on Wednesday to supplement the Derby winner Serpentine into the Arc. That race had prizemoney of €3 million.

Legal action

The opportunity to gain hugely valuable Group 1 success was also denied horses owned by the Coolmore Stud partnership. The six other top-flight races on Sunday’s card between them were worth €1.2 million prizemoney.

O’Brien wouldn’t comment on the likelihood or not of any legal action over the matter. He said he doesn’t know when it will be safe for him to have runners again.

“All our horses changed feed straight away. What we will do is sample every day from now on and see if everything is clear. That’s all we can do, play it by day and see what happens,” he said on Sunday.

The champion trainer did, however, point to the different outcomes from the test results in Ireland and France.

“The only lab we could get was the (Irish) Equine Centre. They did it but it was for cattle. They tested the urine. They went to one (part) in a billion and it was clean at that. So obviously the French labs are going lower than that,” he said.

“So what does that say? Is France the only lab that was looking for this or analysing this?” he added.

O’Brien also told Racing TV: “Everyone’s working so hard to try to breed the horses, to sell the horses, to train them, to race them. They put in so much to get the horses to this stage. They try and make it happen. I feel so sorry for them (owners.) I hope we’re all able to work it out.”


A statement from Gain Equine Nutrition said: “We are continuing to work closely with all appropriate agencies, including the Irish Department of Agriculture, to fully investigate the source, nature and extent of this contamination.

“We are also in close contact with horse racing regulatory bodies. We will provide a more detailed update once further information is available.”

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has said it does test for Zilpaterol here but that there have been no findings in relation to the substance in this country. It said it is monitoring the situation in partnership with French racing’s ruling body, France Galop.

O’Brien will hope to be able to have runners again as soon as possible, including potentially at Wednesday’s fixture at Navan.

His immediate big-race focus is likely to be Friday’s Group 1 Fillies Mile at Newmarket.

The Dewhurst Stakes takes place the following day where both he and Joseph O’Brien are likely to be represented, the latter by the National Stakes winner, Thunder Moon.