Judgement day for Johnson in welfare case


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The career of successful jumps trainer Howard Johnson hangs in the balance today, when an inquiry by the sport's authorities into alleged breaches of the rules covering horse welfare is due to conclude. Johnson faces charges that, if proven, carry a ban of up to 10 years.

Most serious is the accusation that he ran Striking Article eight times after the gelding had undergone a palmar neurectomy, surgery more colloquially known as denerving and which causes the horse to lose sensation at the back of the foot.

Such treatment is acceptable veterinary procedure to provide relief from chronic pain, but is generally a last resort before field retirement or low-key exercise. Horses who have been denerved are banned from racing because, being unable to feel the warning sign of pain in part of their foot, they are at increased risk of further injury and of compromising the safety of their jockey.

Striking Article, six times a winner in bumpers, hurdles and chases, pulled up lame at Musselburgh in February last year and was subsequently put down. The horse had suffered a foot infection earlier in his career and it was discovered at his post-mortem examination the neurectomy had taken place.

Co Durham-based Johnson's defence is that he was unaware that horses who had undergone the operation were banned from racing on welfare grounds. He is also accused of administering steroids to three other horses in his care, Whisky Magic, Mintaka Pass and Montoya's Son, and denies all charges.

A guilty finding of "wilful neglect" could result in a 10-year disqualification, with a ban of up to a year for the lesser category of "neglect and very poor husbandry". Johnson, who has held a licence since 1986, has won a host of top-level races, notably at Cheltenham with Direct Route, Arcalis, No Refuge, Tidal Bay and Inglis Drever.

The last four-named, as do the four horses involved in today's case, carried the colours of Johnson's chief patron, the millionaire entrepreneur Graham Wylie, who has thus far remained loyal.

Ryan Moore, injured in a fall at Goodwood on Saturday, will undergo surgery today to pin a broken humerus and thumb, with his season realistically over. He had been in the mix for a fourth championship; his absence leaves Paul Hanagan and Silvestre de Sousa at the top of the title race.

At Ripon yesterday, De Sousa took advantage of a day's suspension for Hanagan to draw level with the reigning champion with a 151-1 treble on Melodize, Pepper Lane and Lady Royale. The two men, on 87 winners apiece, resume battle at Catterick today.

Hanagan is still as short as 4-6 favourite to retain his crown and De Sousa is certainly counting no chickens. "Horses have been running well but I just want to keep it simple and the fight for the title has not crossed my mind," he said. "There's a long way to the end."

The intriguing possibility has been raised that Goldikova, who cruised to her 14th top-level victory at Deauville on Sunday, could take on Frankel in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in October en route to her tilt at a fourth Breeders' Cup Mile in Kentucky the following month.

The mare was reported by her trainer Freddy Head to have taken Sunday's exertions in her stride. "She won like a young horse," he said, "but we'll take it race by race because she is a six-year-old. And if her programme crosses with Frankel of course we would run. Why not?" Entries for the QEII close today.

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Cape Classic (7.40 Ffos Las) Has the scope to build on his maiden success over today's trip 10 days ago.

Next Best

Cat O' Nine Tails (3.30 Catterick) Runs from the same mark as when touched off last time.

One to watch

Bridgefield (Mahmood Al Zarooni) was still going strongly when caught in a pocket on the rails in a seven-furlong handicap at Goodwood.

Where the money's going

Paddy Power go evens each of two – Paul Hanagan and Silvestre de Sousa – for the jockeys' championship.