The Mahmood al-Zarooni scandal entered an explosive new phase when Encke, who deprived Camelot of a historic Triple Crown success at Doncaster last September, was named among seven additional horses to have tested positive for anabolic steroids.
Suddenly it seems as though the disgraced Godolphin trainer, banned for eight years after confessing his guilt to a British Horseracing Authority hearing, can no longer be credited even for his candour. Certainly, it is now harder to accept that Zarooni was brought down by an unprecedented aberration.
Admittedly, there is no evidence that Encke had been administered steroids before his success in the St Leger, having produced “clean” samples both after his trial at York on 22 August and also after winning at Doncaster. But the fact remains that Zarooni volunteered the names of just four other horses that had received steroids, after 11 out of 45 random samples taken from his yard had yielded positives. Now Encke is among seven others tainted by traces of Stanozolol. Others include Improvisation, an impressive winner at the Craven meeting; and Steeler, an accomplished juvenile for Mark Johnston before being transferred to Godolphin. While both Zarooni and his former employers are entitled to request B sample analysis, these seven are set to be banished from the racecourse until 29 October – six months, that is, from the date of testing.
Sheikh Mohammed, the Godolphin owner, had corroborated his outrage over Zarooni by volunteering every other horse at Moulton Paddocks for independent testing. The good news for the sheikh is that all the horses supervised by the other Godolphin trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, have been passed as clean after the BHA extended testing to his Stanley House stable, also in Newmarket, “for the sake of completeness”. Bin Suroor, who relieved the Godolphin siege with a Group One winner at Newbury on Saturday, will duly be permitted to assume temporary control of Moulton Paddocks, pending the appointment of a new trainer there.
On the face of it, seven out of the 391 horses additionally tested – divided between two huge yards – would not imply systematic doping of those stabled with Zarooni. But the unnerving reality is that steroids, with astute management of detection windows, clear a horse’s system while any benefit endures. Fresh questions will duly be asked about the testimony by which Zarooni incriminated himself so colourfully at his hearing last month.
He has since lodged an appeal against the severity of his penalty, despite brazenly recalling how he had handed an assistant unmarked syringes through his car window, together with a list of horses. Other horses had been treated with a paste feed supplement. But now his claims as a reliable witness appear to have been undermined, in turn raising fresh questions. When were these seven extra horses treated? Was it at the same time as the 15 known cases? Or had Zarooni, based in Dubai until after the World Cup meeting at the end of March, made other pre-season visits to Newmarket with steroids secreted in his baggage? If not, did he delegate the horses’ treatment to others?
Adam Brickell, director of integrity at the BHA, said no separate action would be taken over these fresh results while Zarooni’s appeal – which, like his original hearing, is to an independent panel – remained ongoing. “In the meantime, the latest findings will form the subject of further interviews as part of the BHA’s continuing investigation,” he said. “One of the aims of the investigation, in addition to trying to understand the environment within which such serious breaches came to be committed, has been to identify what measures are needed to ensure the yard operates in accordance with the Rules in future. The findings will be shared with Godolphin and will also assist the BHA with regard to the future licensing of the yard.”
Paul Bittar, the BHA chief executive, welcomed the confirmation that Bin Suroor stood apart from his former assistant’s rogue methods. “These test results endorse the swift action and measures taken in this matter,” Bittar said. “Whatever the outcome of his appeal, the gravity and scale of the infringements warranted Mahmood al-Zarooni being removed from control of the yard as quickly as possible.”
CHRIS McGRATH’s NAP
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