A horse owned by The Queen failing a drugs test after finishing second in the Ascot Gold Cup is quite a bombshell, whichever way you look at it; coming, as it does, so soon after the doping scandals involving Mahmood al-Zarooni and Gerard Butler hardly lessens the impact.
There has been the inevitable response from media all around the world to the Buckingham Palace announcement on Tuesday evening. In New Zealand, it was reported The Queen received the news of Estimate’s failed drug test while celebrating Prince George’s first birthday. Such a far cry from last summer when royal box celebrations of Estimate’s thrilling triumph in the same race provided one of the abiding sporting images of 2013.
It is quite clear, from what has been said by all parties, including the British Horseracing Authority, that though certainly an embarrassment to all concerned, this case is nothing like the others.
Zarooni, who trained for Godolphin, and Butler were banned for eight years and five years respectively last year for administering steroids to horses. In this case, there is no suspicion whatsoever of foul play. Estimate, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, and at least another four horses from other stables, had traces of morphine in their “A” test samples from horse feed, understood to be accidentally contaminated with poppy seeds that occur naturally in the environment.
The BHA has said that it will not comment further until it has completed its investigation; others will comment plenty, although there is probably nothing much else to say or do, aside from tightening up food supply procedures.
Further, it is accepted that such minuscule traces of morphine would make no difference to a horse’s performance, but there is understandably a close to zero tolerance in these matters and all prize-money gained by horses who fail tests is forfeited, including the £80,625 won by Estimate for finishing runner-up at Royal Ascot last month.
Dodson & Horrell, the animal feed manufacturer at the centre of the storm, has launched an investigation with an unnamed supplier, but has identified Alfalfa Oil Plus as the product which might have been contaminated and has recalled other batches as a precautionary measure.
A statement issued on their behalf said: “Preliminary investigations suggest that any contamination of the component product did not occur at Dodson & Horrell’s site.”
The mystery deepened somewhat, however, when Eve Johnson Houghton, who today admitted that one of her horses, Charlie Wells, had also tested positive for morphine, said that she has never fed her string Alfalfa Oil Plus, although she does use other Dodson & Horrell products.
Estimate is, of course, blissfully unaware of the hullaballoo going on around her and continued her preparation for next week’s Goodwood Cup with a morning workout on Newmarket’s gallops.
Among her rivals will be last year’s winner Brown Panther, who will now miss Saturday’s Ascot’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes to defend his title.