Larry McGrath, a journeyman jump jockey on the Northern circuit, has become the fifth rider to be banned after testing positive for cocaine. McGrath, 33, had his licence withdrawn yesterday by the Horseracing Regulatory Authority's discipline committee until 28 October.
The period is, in effect, six months as he had already been ordered out of the saddle for the past six weeks.
McGrath, from Carrick-on-Suir in Co Tipperary, returned a positive for the illegal drug after a routine test at Carlisle in March. The following month another sample, taken at Carlisle, was found to contain a prohibited diuretic, and two failures mean immediate suspension. The six-month suspension, the maximum, includes the six weeks already served. McGrath was also fined £350, the minimum, for the diuretic offence.
The authorities' crack-down on drugs and alcohol started 12 years ago. The other four riders banned for cocaine have been apprentice rider Philip Shea, given a six-month ban in October 2000; Dean Gallagher, suspended for six months in France and then 18 months in 2002 for a second offence in Britain; Franny Norton, stood down for four months in December 2003 and the apprentice Robert Miles, for six months in January last year.
A total of 1,558 tests were carried out on riders licensed by the Jockey Club in 2005, which included all of the apprentices and conditionals attending courses at the racing schools. Professional jockeys with over 200 rides were tested on average six times each through the year.
McGrath, who rode 16 winners last season, is best-known for his association with the Richard Guest-trained Our Armageddon, on whom he won the Cathcart Chase at the 2004 Cheltenham Festival and a second Singer and Freidlander Chase at Uttoxeter in February. The Irishman held his hands up over the cocaine test and his suspension, blaming "a moment of madness" at a party.
There was better news in London yesterday for Eddie Ahern, who won his appeal against a six-day ban picked up at Wolverhampton last week. The jockey was suspended for three days by the local stewards for careless riding, which triggered three deferred days from an earlier offence, but the HRA disciplinary committee decided that the Wolverhampton incident was accidental, rather than careless, and Ahern escaped punishment.
And Seb Sanders will now be free to ride Confidential Lady in the Prix de Diane at Chantilly on Sunday after a successful application to change the dates of a suspension for whip misuse. Sanders finished second in the 1,000 Guineas on Sir Mark Prescott's charge, who will be the only British challenger in a 16-strong field for the French equivalent of the Oaks. Queen Cleopatra, third in the Irish Guineas to Confidential Lady's sixth, is set to represent Aidan O'Brien.
A remarkable old horse reached a remarkable milestone at Haydock yesterday. The John Of Gaunt Stakes, a seven-furlong listed contest, was the 100th outing for nine-year-old Quito and with an impeccable sense of occasion, he won. And if the horse's sense of timing was spot-on, so was that of his rider Tony Culhane, who bided his time behind his six rivals before producing Quito with his trademark late burst inside the final furlong to score by a cosy half-length.
Quito, owned by Michael Hill, has been trained by David Chapman since being rejected by the Maktoum family as a five-year-old with just six runs and a victory in a Nad Al Sheba handicap under his girth. He was then, and is still, a rig, an entire male whose testicles have not properly descended. This can cause discomfort for a racehorse, but clearly not in Quito's case, for yesterday was his 18th victory, successes which include the 2003 Ayr Gold Cup. He cost Chapman 3,500 guineas at the Newmarket sales, and has now earned £370,000.
Culhane has ridden him 75 times. "He's amazing," he said. "It took us a while to get to know him, but we do now. If he doesn't get cover, he doesn't win." Quito will pay his first visit to Royal Ascot this year, for the Golden Jubilee Stakes.
BRIGHTON: 2.10 Pires 2.40 Golden Asha 3.10 Taranaki 3.40 Girardii 4.10 Prince Valentine 4.40 Elusive Warrior
WOLVERHAMPTON (AW): 2.30 Gem Bien 3.00 Lockstock 3.30 Mon Petite Amour 4.00 Ebn Reem 4.30 Bens Georgie 5.00 Buzzin'boyzee
NB: Vale Of Belvoir