The spectre of steroids on the British Turf, barely perceived before the disgrace of Mahmood Al Zarooni last week, grows ever more tangible. On Monday the British Horseracing Authority, always reluctant to comment on ongoing investigations, issued a statement in response to Gerard Butler’s confession to The Independent that he, too, faces a ban for injecting steroids.
The Newmarket trainer believes more than 100 horses in the town have been treated with the medication – recommended and administered, in good faith, by his vets – that triggered positive results in samples taken at his yard in February. Now the BHA has confirmed that it is exploring how many other trainers may have shared similar misapprehensions about targeted injections for joint injuries.
Butler stresses that he has been candid throughout with the BHA, and that he continues to co-operate with its inquiries. While itself anxious not to prejudice the outcome, the BHA said that the source of the positive samples had been established as a “product licensed in the EU and legally imported for use by a veterinary practice, the initial administration of which was recommended by a vet”. Representatives of that practice were among those who had been and would be interviewed, and one of the objectives “was to clarify the extent to which this product has been distributed and administered to horses in training”.
Butler accepts this to be a strict liability offence, and that he is at fault in certain aspects of the case. But he believed the treatment to be so widely prescribed that he unhesitatingly entered it in his official medical records last summer. Moreover, these had been returned without comment after inspection last summer by the BHA.
Immediately after receiving the positive results – and, presumably, Butler’s initial testimony – the BHA and National Trainers’ Federation published a notice that the medication in question contained an anabolic steroid and should therefore not be given to any horse in training. This was redistributed by the NTF on Monday.
Butler’s disclosures had meanwhile been received in Newmarket as the unexpected aftershock to an earthquake. Only eight days ago the BHA stunned the sport by announcing that 11 horses in the care of Mahmood Al Zarooni, the principal trainer for Godolphin, had produced traces of anabolic steroids in random samples taken at his stable. Within 72 hours, Al Zarooni had been banned for eight years and Sheikh Mohammed, professing outrage with his former employee, had closed the stable pending voluntary testing on every horse.
Trainers viewed Butler’s case as very different. John Berry suggested that “all he is guilty of is taking bad advice” and praised his candour. “There are two different types of steroids: anabolic steroids that build muscle and corticosteroids that are anti-inflammatory,” Berry explained. “Corticosteroids are legal for horses – although obviously you can’t use them in close proximity to races – as they are legal for humans to use; you often hear of sportspeople having cortisone injections for injuries.
“Gerard has been given a drug by a vet, and told it’s a legal drug. It has been injected into a joint, which shows it was not being used as an anabolic steroid as that is not how they work. It would be very, very sad if he were to lose his licence over this. There are very few trainers with any kind of biochemical qualification, so all you can do is take the advice of the vet.”
Police arrest jockey Graham Gibbons
Graham Gibbons was taken into police custody at Wolverhampton racecourse on Monday, in what is understood to be a matter unrelated to the sport. A West Midlands Police spokeswoman said: “We have arrested a 31-year-old man on behalf of North Yorkshire Police.” The jockey had ridden two winners on the card.