The search for trainers using the banned drug EPO was a hunt for a non-existent quarry, it was confirmed by the Jockey Club yesterday. The analysis of blood samples taken from over 400 horses on Tuesday morning, including those from Britain's leading yards, proved blank.
The Jockey Club greeted the results as a triumph. Martin Pipe, the most significant name among the five trainers visited unannounced, believes the dawn raids, and in particular their timing two weeks before the Cheltenham Festival, has been detrimental to the National Hunt sport.
"We never had anything to fear as we always knew all our horses were in the clear," the champion trainer said yesterday. "What was annoying was having our work morning interrupted.
"The Jockey Club have now admitted they were looking for EPO, which as far as I'm aware no-one really knows how to detect in any case. As far as we are concerned they can come down to Pond House from now until kingdom come, but they will never find anything wrong here. All we do is try and get horses fit and get them to enjoy life."
Pipe apart, there were swoops on the premises of Paul Nicholls, Venetia Williams, Len Lungo and Alan Jones. Despite initial denials, it was confirmed yesterday that the main target was erythropoietin (EPO), a drug identified earlier in the season by the Lambourn trainer Charlie Mann as prevalent in racing.
"This was principally an exercise to deal with the well publicised allegations of the use of EPO in racehorses," Peter Webbon, the Jockey Club veterinary director, said. "Samples from 408 horses were collected – and, following the use of well proven screening techniques, HFL [the Horseracing Forensic Laboratory in Newmarket] have informed us that all the samples tested negative for EPO. I hope that these results will serve to reassure the racing public.
"We have spoken to the five trainers concerned and told them that the tests were all negative. We have thanked them for their co-operation during the collecting of the samples and apologised if we caused any disruption to their training programmes.
"In keeping with normal practice in the laboratory, the negative samples will be retained and may be used for routine research purposes only.
"The Jockey Club will continue its programme of unannounced visits to trainers' yards, both large and small, for the purposes of testing horses in training and we shall continue to monitor samples for the presence of EPO."
On Tuesday, the Jockey Club announced that the five trainers concerned had been chosen either at random or on information received. Len Lungo at least among those cleared continues to feel a sense of victimisation. "There seems to be a new and vigorous security department led by Mr [Jeremy] Phipps and I would like to see them do a few more stables just to show that the four successful stables were in no way being pointed a finger at," the Scottish trainer said.
"Let's see a good few more done without any warning and let's see it kept up over the next few years. If there are regular unannounced visits it means no-one could ever contemplate anything dishonest. They can come to me anytime."
John Maxse, for the Jockey Club, applauded the whole exercise. "There was no intention to cast aspersions on the five trainers chosen for testing but obviously in the context of the exercise it made sense that the majority of the yards visited had enjoyed considerable success and produced a large number of winners," he said.
"The results have proven they had nothing to be fearful of. Rather than saying this is a bad thing for racing I think this should be a massive boost in confidence for racing."
Maxse added: "I wouldn't say this is going to happen on a regular basis but we will continue with a programme of unannounced testing of horses in training and will visit both large and small yards.
"These tests involved eight per cent of the National Hunt horses in training and it is important to not only reassure the public but also increase their confidence in the sport following some of the publicised allegations made before the turn of the year which were potentially damaging to the sport."