Racing: Jockey Club forced to reveal horse-doping incident

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The Independent Online
THE Jockey Club yesterday disclosed that a horse called Flash Of Straw was 'got at' at Yarmouth last August, a belated revelation that suggests that racing is powerless to defend itself against dopers. The sport is already facing the probability that Her Honour, a hurdler trained by Martin Pipe, was drugged when failing at Kempton Park on 22 January.

The Jockey Club can expect to be vilified for concealing the doping of Flash Of Straw for seven months. Only on Monday it denied there was any possibility of malpractice in the case of Her Honour. The very next day it abandoned its see-no-evil protestations and admitted that Her Honour had returned a postive post-race test. Yesterday's disclosure about Flash Of Straw was undoubtedly forced on the club by persistent rumours sweeping the racecourse.

Detectives at Dorking in Surrey have been working with Jockey Club security officials over the doping of Flash Of Straw, a three-year-old maiden trained by Geoff Lewis, on 20 August last year. Flash Of Straw was backed down from 25-1 to 4-1 favourite and was the day's betting 'steamer', as highlighted by John McCririck on Channel 4, but the horse defied stable expectations by fading two furlongs out to finish sixth. Her Honour filled the same position in Kempton's Walton Hurdle on 22 January, after starting the 6-4 favourite. Both horses have run since, with no evidence of any ill-effects.

From the pattern of betting on both occasions it is not clear how the dopers profited from stopping the favourite. Usually, when a fancied horse is got at, it drifts in the betting. Bookmakers learn on the intelligence network that 'the favourite will not be winning', and so try to attract money for the horse, while at least one other runner in the race is heavily backed by those who know that the main contender has been eliminated by drugs.

Neither the Flash Of Straw nor the Her Honour case conforms to this pattern, so the suspicion will be that a rogue bookmaker was a central player with the aim of taking as much cash for the two horses as possible. Always, the betting ring is the first place investigators look for clues.

Clues which, as yet, are not forthcoming. Despite the fact that Flash Of Straw was tampered with last summer, a spokesman for Surrey Police said yesterday: 'There are a lot of people still to talk to and we are in close co-operation with the Jockey Club.' It is this apparent lack of direction in the inquiries - plus the failure of the 1990 investigation - which implies that the dopers are outwitting the authorities.

Apart from being a public relations disaster for the Jockey Club, the 'stopping' of Flash Of Straw and Her Honour (final confirmation is imminent in the latter's case) suggests that doping gangs are able to operate with virtual impunity on British racetracks. Those responsible for interfering with the Flat racers Bravefoot and Norwich and Flying Diva in 1990 are still at large, safe in the knowledge that the investigation has been closed.

At the time, racing's authorities attempted to portray those outbreaks of doping as isolated cases, but the policy of closing ranks is in disrepute now that the sport's security has again been so undermined. Inevitably, yesterday's news raises the possibility that other horses have been administered prohibited substances and so the already tenuous faith of punters in the betting system is likely to be further weakened.

Yesterday the Jockey Club explained its secretiveness by saying it was trying to avoid 'the glare of publicity', and insisted that Flash Of Straw is the only proven case of doping on its books at present. But after the club's evasions of Monday and Tuesday, nobody was placing much faith in that.

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