If the British Horseracing Authority and Sheikh Mohammed had both hoped that the dust might finally begin to settle on the Godolphin steroids scandal, they were disappointed when its author unexpectedly contrived to stoke things up anew. Mahmood al-Zarooni was given an eight-year ban after conceding sole responsibility for 11 positive tests among 45 samples taken at his Newmarket yard last month, but has now lodged a protest against the severity of that penalty.
The candour of his admissions to an independent disciplinary panel had made an appeal seem an outlandish prospect, even after he sought advice on the possibility from Facebook friends. The disgraced trainer had described handing five unlabelled syringes from his car window to an assistant, together with a list of horses; and also how he had secreted the drugs among his luggage from Dubai. As such, regardless of any change to the outcome, the very fact that he now wishes to revisit the affair may be rather queasily received by regulators and former employers alike.
After all, his case was heard within 72 hours of the charges against him being made public, and he mysteriously waived his right to legal representation. Given his limited grasp of English, the absence of anyone competent to attempt some plea in mitigation seemed to leave the whole, hasty process open to a degree of unease.
The one exculpation offered by Zarooni himself was ignorance, use of steroids in training being permitted in certain other jurisdictions – not least Dubai itself – so long as they have cleared a horse’s system by raceday. Both the disciplinary panel and the Godolphin manager, Simon Crisford, refused to believe that he had been under any illusions about the status of the medication he appears to have introduced, in his own account, so surreptitiously. None the less the collective determination to disown Zarooni now appears to have invited fresh embarrassment, if only in the extension of the saga.
Seldom has the Chester May meeting, one of the most charming in the calendar, seemed such a welcome palliative. Though 12lb higher than when winning last year, Ile De Re returns to the Stan James Chester Cup only 4lb higher than when following up in the Northumberland Plate and represents a local yard seeking its third consecutive win. Countrywide Flame looks better weighted, being readily pardoned a lesser effort at Aintree after having just 23 days to absorb his superb third in the Champion Hurdle. He has a handy draw, a valid consideration even at this trip round these dizzy bends, but preference is for one berthed just inside.
Justification (2.45) has a top-class staying pedigree, by Montjeu out of the dam of Opera House and Kayf Tara, and has significantly been retained at Ballydoyle as a five-year-old gelding. He gave some indication why in a Leopardstown handicap last month, heavily backed for only his fifth career start and travelling well before seeing things out strongly. Better again is anticipated at this distance, and he looks lethally treated off 8st 8lb as a horse with entries for the Investec Coronation Cup and the Gold Cup at Ascot.
Charles Hills must have sound reasons for risking a low handicap mark for Premium (2.15) in the Weatherbys Bank Cheshire Oaks, while Smugglers Gold (1.45) and Last Sovereign (3.15) hold obvious interest in races that place an exorbitant premium on the draw. It will, as ever, be a white-knuckle ride for the jockeys – but they must still count themselves less vulnerable than their counterparts over jumps. A breakthrough season for Bryan Cooper ended with a literal break in a novice chase at Down Royal on Monday, of his left femur, and he will be sidelined until September.