Racing: 'Needleman' admits doping at least 20 horses

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The Independent Online
THE TELEVISION debut of 'The Needleman' in last night's BBC2 programme On The Line presented viewers with a vivid and sinister image of racing's underworld, writes John Cobb.

The man, whose identity was protected (except to those familiar with his knees) and who was given the menacing sobriquet, gave a thorough account of how he avoided racecourse security to administer a 'stopping' drug to at least 20 horses shortly before they raced.

He claimed: 'People working for bookmakers would pay a minimum of pounds 5,000 to have a horse doped. Bookies were the only people who stood to gain.

'You couldn't really say no,' he maintained. 'I've had a gun put to my head.'

Disturbingly for those responsible for racecourse security, 'Needleman' was shown demonstrating how he had broken into stable yards at Windsor and Newbury and the programme's producer, Mike Parkinson, was shown walking unchallenged into the stable block at Newton Abbot.

That was the one part of the programme which the Jockey Club last night admitted was disturbing and needed examining. The programme's suggestion that 'the solution (to preventing doping) could be as simple as investing in security' is one that may well be acted on.

'We do use closed-circuit cameras at big meetings and courses are likely to want to use them more in future,' David Pipe, the Jockey Club's Director of Public Affairs, said last night in a swift attempt to counteract this blow to racing's image.

'Racecourse stables can never be fortresses because so many people have a right to be there. We believe the person who carried out the dopings had authority to enter the stable area.

'The programme was much on the lines expected,' Pipe said. 'It provided a criminal with a platform and simply re-hashed stories about horses from 1990.'

'Needleman' recounted how a team of people would go to a track to help him get to the target horse, often a favourite in a small field. After watching the horses arrive at the stables, a member of the gang would mingle with security staff and discover which box the target had been allocated.

'Needleman' would be given this information and when stable staff were lured away by a telephone call from another member of the gang, he would go into action. He would then administer, either by syringe or sugar lumps, acetylpromazine (ACP), a drug which he said 'takes 15 lengths off a Flat horse'. He also maintained that if an adequate but low dosage was administered then it would be sufficiently absorbed by a horse's system to go undetected.

Pipe responded that: 'The programme made inaccurate claims about ACP. If ACP has any effect on a horse it will almost certainly be detected.

'We believe we know who carried out the 1990 dopings and we assume it was him on the programme,' Pipe said. 'Hopefully, the police will be able to deal with the BBC to bring the culprits to court. It would be disgraceful of the BBC to withold information.'

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