Greyhounds: Dog's life for chocolate `cheats'

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The Independent Online
FIRST IT was Ben Johnson, then the Tour de France, and now even the remote sporting outpost that is whippet racing finds itself in the grip of a doping scandal.

Throughout the north of England, dogs are being stripped of championships and owners expelled from the sport, while bitter controversy rages in the pages of Whippet magazine. The agent in question, though, is not testosterone or even EPO, but something more in tune with whippet racing's modest means - the humble chocolate drop.

For years, a chocolate button or two was a familiar treat in the diet of a racing dog, which spends 99 per cent of its life doing nothing more competitive than playing the family pet. Whippet racing has always been a hobby, carried on quietly and almost unnoticed since the distant days when beer was tuppence a pint and City were the best side in Manchester.

But that was before the National Whippet Racing Association, the sport's governing body, decided to introduce drug-testing to its competitions, and quickly uncovered a series of positive results for theobromine and, in minute quantities, caffeine.

Since both substances are metabolites of the cocoa bean, the evidence pointed to nothing more sinister than some mild cases of canine chocaholism. Not, however, in the eyes of the NWRA, which soon set about disqualifying dogs and banning their owners. Their protests that doping whippets would be pointless, since there is no betting or prize-money involved were ignored, while angry articles in Whippet accused the owners of cheating.

But now the whippets and their owners are fighting back. They are led by Mark Pettitt, from Ilkeston, whose dog Xspell was one of the best racers the sport has seen and among those to return positive tests. "They just will not listen to reason," he says. "Innocent people with pets who are just in this for fun are being branded drug cheats, and I will not stand by and see people bullied. I will see justice done, one way or another. People's lives are being ruined by this."

There is talk of a court case, perhaps even a libel action if the allegations are not retracted and the dogs and owners re-instated. The NWRA, though, shows no signs of giving way. Inorder to win justice, Pettitt may indeed be forced to cry havoc, and let slip the whippets of war.