Racing: Changes may end Aga saga: New drug-testing procedures may allow a leading owner to resolve his dispute with the Jockey Club and return to the British turf

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THERE WAS talk of joint objectives and defeating dopers at Portman Square yesterday, but one issue dominated the announcement of changes to the Jockey Club's drug testing procedures. The value of the reforms might be summarised by the question: what price is Manntari for the 2,000 Guineas?

Shorter all the time, it seems, as relations between the Club and the Aga Khan grow warmer. The Aliysa case, by turns destructive and embarrassing over its four-year history, could be nearing its close after yesterday's acceptance by the Club of new policies and procedures for drug-testing. The Aga may now allow his horses, which include the leading two-year-old Manntari, to run on British racecourses for the first time since 1990, when the disqualification of his 1989 Oaks winner, who tested positive to camphor, was confirmed by the racing authority.

Christopher Foster, the Jockey Club secretary, denied that the changes were an attempt to appease the Aga - 'the policy of harmonisation goes back many years,' - but 'wouldn't underestimate the brightness of the light focussed on the issues as a result of the Aliysa case'. He, and the Club, could hardly forget it - boycott aside, the protracted drama included a messy, occasionally chaotic, Disciplinary Inquiry, and a trip to the courts.

In the middle of some inspired verbosity ('sample quality should be maximised by exploitation of rapid temperature reduction followed by maintenance of low temperature' - that's right, they'll freeze them) the key point of yesterday's report is that procedures in Britain, Ireland and France will be harmonised. The principal change to British practice will be the introduction of mandatory second checking of positive samples - there are usually between 15 and 25 each year - at a different laboratory.

But is it enough? The Aga has yet to study the report in detail, but when he does he will find that it is a gesture of good intent on the Jockey Club's part, not an admission of guilt, and some of the owner's concerns appear to remain unaddressed. In particular, as the Aga's solicitor, Matthew McCloy, pointed out yesterday: 'We moved one step back, we said that if a particular laboratory develops the test then the test itself must be subject to validation by another laboratory. The argument was not that the urine sample was wrongly analysed, but that the test used to analyse it was wrong.

'We say that the HFL (Horseracing Forensic Laboratory in Newmarket) developed its own test and said right, we've developed a test for camphor and never sent its work out to be validated by another laboratory. The whole test for camphor was developed by one study on one horse using a substance that was not camphor.'

As for Manntari and the rest, McCloy chose his words carefully. 'There has been movement on both sides in the last three or four weeks and His Highness would hope that that momentum can be maintained.' For the time being, perhaps it would be wise to back Manntari with a run.