Trainer brought banned steroids back from Dubai

Zarooni passed syringes and list of horses to assistant during trip to Newmarket in March

Mahmood al-Zarooni passed five unmarked syringes from his car window to an assistant, with a list of five horses. They contained anabolic steroids, secreted among the trainer's luggage for a pre-season trip to Newmarket from Dubai, and the seeds of his own ruin. Such is his own version of events, as published by the British Horseracing Authority – and the only one we will ever have.

Just as well, then, that the details of his disgrace should be so free of equivocation. For the open-and-shut phases of his case appear to have been divided only by such laconic admissions of guilt as could be volunteered by a man whose lack of probity, in his own account, is exceeded only his want of fluency in the English language.

Last Thursday the Godolphin trainer was banned for eight years after confessing himself sole author of the scandal that had erupted barely 72 hours earlier. Eleven out of 45 horses had tested positive for anabolic steroids after BHA officials visited his Newmarket stables on 9 April. Sheikh Mohammed, Godolphin's owner, promptly professed his outrage, and locked up the yard pending voluntary testing of all the other horses in Zarooni's care. The young trainer, who had so revived Godolphin's fortunes during the three years since his promotion, was given no legal representation – and in turn gave the disciplinary panel of the BHA, independent as it is, little choice in reaching the conclusions released about "widespread, systematic misuse of illegal substances".

The majority of Godolphin's horses nowadays remain in Newmarket for the winter, while Zarooni and Saeed bin Suroor prepare runners for the International Carnival and World Cup meeting in Dubai. Day-to-day supervision even of horses due to contest Classic races in the spring is duly left to anonymous assistants.

But Zarooni told the panel that he brought two prohibited medications in his luggage when visiting Newmarket a couple of weeks before the World Cup. On 14 March he filled five unmarked syringes with 4ml apiece of Stanasol, and passed them "out of his car window to an unqualified veterinary assistant, Sharif Mahboob, and asked him to give the drugs to five horses which he listed on a piece of paper". All had musculoskeletal problems; one had suffered from colic as well. Zarooni told the panel he felt the treatment could improve their condition. He had also ordered staff to add Nitrotain, containing ethylestranol in paste form, to the feed of several others in the hope of increasing their appetite.

Zarooni was still back in Dubai when BHA testers visited his yard, under a protocol that permits unannounced sampling during 12 months following any raceday irregularities – such as the two minor positive test results, for painkillers, against his name last year. Interviewed on 17 April, after confirmation of the positive tests, Zarooni not only admitted his guilt but also named four other horses that had received the same treatments, and even produced a box containing what remained of the Nitrotain. He told the BHA investigators "that his knowledge of the drug[s] came from working in Dubai where use of anabolic steroids in training is permitted" and that he presumed their use to be permitted "if the horse was not racing".

He could not explain his failure to enter either treatment in his medical records, which contributed significantly to the panel's rejection of his pleas of ignorance. "He had access to expert veterinary advice from a number of sources," the panel said. "But [he] deliberately ignored this resource and chose to covertly administer to horses in training anabolic steroids he had brought back into the UK. This was not an accidental or inadvertent misunderstanding of the rules. This was a deliberate flouting of the governance framework of British racing. The underhand and repeated nature of these transgressions, and the disrepute into which racing is brought by them, can only be marked by a substantial penalty."

It has been stressed by the BHA that Zarooni's string has previously been tested in training, and yielded no positive samples. But the one and only exculpation he appears to have offered is that steroids are permitted in Dubai, provided they clear a horse's system by raceday. That invites suspicion about therapies that might have been routinely applied to his horses there during the winter, many of whom have thrived conspicuously. Simon Crisford, the Godolphin manager, said Zarooni has only admitted administering steroids in Dubai on one occasion, to fewer than 10 horses, none of which returned to Newmarket. Of course, having had his credibility ripped to shreds by both Crisford and the BHA, Zarooni's specific reassurance on that account will hardly comfort everyone. As with his entire account last Thursday, however, they can only take his word for it.

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