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    Strict measures to combat doping in horse racing in the UK
Strict measures to combat doping in horse racing in the UK

Strict measures to combat doping in horse racing in the UK

Throughout the history of competitive sports, individuals have resorted to unethical practices to gain a competitive advantage. Many justify this behaviour by claiming that it is necessary to keep up with their competitors. The use of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing has likely been prevalent since the inception of the sport, although it may not have been frowned upon in earlier times as it is today.

Administering drugs to horses to enhance their performance may seem insignificant, but in reality it is a form of cheating that the governing bodies of the industry are striving to eradicate. What types of drugs have been used in the past? How are animals screened for potential doping? What are the consequences for those caught engaging in such practices? These are the questions that we aim to address here.

Image Source: Midjourney

In the United Kingdom, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is responsible for governing the industry and determining the rules of the sport, including which drugs are banned. The list of banned substances is extensive and continually undergoes updates to include any drugs or drug categories that might potentially enhance a horse's performance in races.

Owners and trainers need to be aware of the BHA's rules regarding banned substances before administering any medications to their horses, as ignorance is not considered a valid excuse. While some medications, like corticosteroids, have specific guidelines that include a 'stand down' period before races, others such as bisphosphonates have strict rules about use before race days.

The British Horseracing Authority explicitly states that only standard feed and water are permitted for administration to horses on race days. Any breaches of the regulations pertaining to prohibited substances may lead to penalties, irrespective of whether the drug use was deliberate or inadvertent. Comprehensive information about banned substances is easily accessible to facilitate adherence to the regulations established by the BHA.

Officials in Britain and Ireland are teaming up to crack down on doping in horse racing by implementing a zero-tolerance policy. The British Horseracing Authority and Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board are joining forces to enhance out-of-competition testing. In a recent operation, almost 250 samples were collected from over 120 horses slated to compete at the Cheltenham Festival. Known as the 'Olympics of Jumps Racing', Cheltenham is the perfect event to kick off the testing process, allowing punters, trainers, and owners to have increased confidence in the integrity of the 2024 Festival.

Both the IHRB and BHA will work together under the jurisdiction of each country, sharing results and samples to ensure thorough testing. Dr. Lynn Hillyer, IHRB’s Chief Veterinary Officer, emphasised the commitment to international collaboration and best practices in the new venture. Collaboration between the two bodies reinforces the importance of maintaining the highest standards of integrity and welfare in both jurisdictions.

Testing will be conducted by the LGC Laboratory, a renowned facility recognised by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. The testing procedures are sophisticated and aim to detect any unauthorised substances in a horse's system. Samples of blood, urine, and hair are collected from the horses. If a prohibited substance is found in the A sample during testing, the British Horseracing Authority will contact the horse's owner and trainer to inform them. An investigation will be launched to determine the source of the substance. If there are doubts about the test results, the owner or trainer can request the B sample to be tested at an approved location.

Image Source: Midjourney

If the B sample tests negative, the BHA will decide whether to take disciplinary action based on all available evidence. If action is taken, a Disciplinary Panel will review the case and decide on penalties, which may include disqualification from the race and fines for the owner or trainer.

Positive test results can sometimes be explained by errors in the stable or unintentional use of a legal veterinary treatment with insufficient withdrawal time. However, if intentional doping is suspected, the consequences will be more severe. Typically the horse is removed from the race where the positive sample was found, resulting in possible fines for the Trainer or Owner. The outcome of the disciplinary hearing will be made public in our Disciplinary Results segment.


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