Racing: Drug tests for jockeys unveiled: Riders tempted to use illicit substances to help them get the trip will soon face the threat of lengthy suspensions

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The Independent Online
THE paddock bar know-alls who love to insist that this or that jockey's bottle has gone may soon have a point. A new system for random drug testing of riders, unveiled by the Jockey Club yesterday prior to its launch on 1 October, will ensure that plenty of jockeys' bottles will soon be finding their way to a laboratory for analysis. The precise effect on the donor's nerves will depend on what the scientists discover inside.

Racing will be one of the last major sports to introduce compulsory random drug tests (for its human participants, anyway), and the scheme outlined yesterday by Dr Michael Turner, the Club's chief medical officer, attempts to draw on the experience of sports such as football and athletics. The list of banned substances is, for the moment at least, short. It does not include the stimulant ephedrine, for example, which was a component of Diego Maradona's World Cup 'cocktail', nor diuretics, the 'pee pills' which can help a desperate jockey to shed pounds. Common painkillers such as codeine are also missing.

The testing procedure itself, however, appears to be both efficient and foolproof. Sampling officers from the Sports Council will, about once a week, arrive at a course of their choosing, an hour before the first race. They will ask the clerk of the scales to provide a list of all the jockeys riding at the track and allocate a number to each. Three numbered gambling chips - an unintentional irony - will then be drawn from a bag by an independent observer and three relevant jockeys notified that they have until an hour after the last race to provide a urine sample.

A sampling officer will watch the passing of the sample, during which time the donor must be, in Dr Turner's words, 'naked from the navel to the knee.' The specimen will then be divided between two bottles, sealed securely and sent for analysis.

About two weeks later, the test result for the 'A' sample will be passed to Dr Turner by hand. If there has been a positive result for any of the Club's banned substances - which include cannabis, most amphetamines, alcohol above the legal limit for driving, cocaine, barbiturates, most opiates and LSD - a confirmatory analysis will be carried out on the second sample. Another positive result and the disciplinary procedures would grind into life.

The medical control committee, consisting of Dr Turner and at least two other members of the club's medical control panel, will consider defences offered by jockeys on medical or circumstantial grounds. There will thus be no need for the members of the disciplinary committee, whose grasp of physiology stretches little further than the fact that too much port makes you giddy, to worry about thresholds and breakdown products.

If the medical committee is unimpressed by the jockey's excuses, the disciplinary committee will do little more than pass sentence. Guidelines issued yesterday recommend up to one month's suspension for a first offence, up to a year for a second, and up to five years for a third. These are only guidelines, though, and a positive test for, say, cocaine, could well result in a long suspension, even for a first offence.

The point of it all, of course, is safety: jockeys under the influence of a drug, whether it be stimulant, depressant or hallucinogenic, are a danger to themselves and others. But while the testing initiative is clearly welcome, it does seem strange that several substances which are banned by other sports are apparently fine for racing. The situation in athletics, in which possession of a gift voucher from Boots can almost be sufficient to trigger the alarms, may not be the one to emulate, but is it really desirable that riders can dose up on strong painkillers in order to ride with bruised ribs?

Also missing yesterday was the imaginative suggestion of Michael Caulfield, the secretary of the Jockeys' Association that drug testing should extend to racecourse officials. The Club has issued a reminder to track staff that drink, in particular, is incompatible with efficiency, but since stewards come in threes, it is hard to dispel the image of the three monkeys' attitude to evil. But it may be that the normally iron stomachs of the Sports Council staff recoiled from the thought of a steward naked from navel to knee.

(Photograph omitted)