The biggest doping scandal in horse racing history has rocked the Godolphin thoroughbred operation to its very core.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
Sheikh Mohammed was caught up in the euphoria of Dawn Approach’s victory in the 2,000 Guineas when Clare Balding coaxed him into a live TV interview on 4 May. “I always face certain … challenges,” he told the Channel 4 presenter, speaking in the aftermath of the biggest doping scandal in racing history that rocked his Godolphin thoroughbred operation to its very core. Just 24 hours earlier a shipment of veterinary goods flown in by a Dubai Air Wing jet had been seized and destroyed at Stansted Airport, 30 miles from Newmarket.
The sheikh quickly receded into his entourage when Balding pressed him on the British Horseracing Authority’s decision to ban his former trainer Mahmood al-Zarooni for eight years following his use of anabolic steroids on a total of 22 Godolphin horses. However, five months later his equine operations face further serious questions around doping controls.
The Veterinary Medicines Directorate, which made the seizure at Stansted along with UK Border Force and a later raid on Moorley Farm where similar products were found, reportedly acted on prior intelligence. An investigation is continuing but the intended destination of the drugs found at Stansted has yet to be confirmed.
The seizure was recorded at 7pm on Friday 3 May, from a private jet. Four private aircraft landed at Stansted on that day and a Border Force spokesman confirmed to the Guardian that the seizure in question was made on a plane that departed from Dubai. It is not known whether Sheikh Mohammed was on board that flight but a spokesman for his junior wife, Princess Haya, insisted the Sheikh knew nothing of the seizure until recently.
The BHA remains confident that the finds by the VMD are unrelated to racing and not connected to the training or upkeep of any thoroughbreds. The authority’s response to the Stansted and Moorley seizures was swift and any potential link to racing was quickly denied. Indeed, there is no connection between the illegal shipment at Stansted and the substances used by Zarooni to enhance the performance of racehorses. The trainer was found guilty of using ethylestranol and stanozolol on a number of horses, having sourced the steroids in Dubai and brought them to Britain himself.
The products seized at Stansted included certain drugs that are available legally across the world. However, some were brought in significant quantities and were destroyed, said the VMD, “because they were not authorised in the UK”.
A source close to Princess Haya, who Sheikh Mohammed has tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding both the Stansted seizure and a separate raid last month by the VMD at Moorley Farm near Newmarket, claims she is furious at the developments and concerned for her family’s reputation. Her spokesman stated that no one within Sheikh Mohammed’s operation has been contacted by the VMD since the seizure but blamed the drugs’ presence on the plane on “an internal reporting error”.
A BHA report in June found Zarooni was acting on his own and not under instruction from anyone within the Godolphin hierarchy. However, the two latest incidents suggest that there was either an ignorance of Britain’s licensing rules for the use of veterinary products or a disregard of them. The goods seized at Stansted were incorrectly labelled as “horse tack” and destroyed following the seizure and it is the administration of the powerful sedatives, anaesthetics and anti-inflammatories that raises questions.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, who have been liaising with the VMD throughout its continuing investigation into the seizure, is concerned at the possibility that vets operating without a licence may have been intending to use the products on horses.
A spokesman said earlier this month: “If an unregistered vet, for example, an overseas vet, or other person has been involved, there could be a breach of the Veterinary Surgeons Act and we would support any police investigations.”
It is unknown whether the seizure at Stansted is directly linked to the raid at Moorley Farm last month, when 124 banned products were found by the VMD. The site is understood to be used for Dubai-based endurance horses during the summer, while a number of similar substances that were found on the farm were also seized at the airport.
The Spanish endurance horse trainer Jaume Punti Dachs self-published a list of the products that were seized at Moorley Farm and insisted it was a routine visit from the VMD. Punti Dachs, who competed at the European Endurance Championships earlier this month and won the individual category on his nine-year-old stallion Quran El Ulm, is a member of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports’ endurance committee. Princess Haya is the FEI’s current president.
Since learning of the incidents at Stansted and Moorley Farm, Princess Haya has launched an internal investigation to ascertain how and why these breaches of the regulations were allowed to happen.
In a directive to staff, she wrote: “All horse medications destined for import or export, regardless of ownership, have to be registered and authorised at the intended destination.”
The statement from her spokesman that “nobody in the organisation seems to know who is buying what or where” raises serious questions about the entire operation, and only a thorough investigation will clear the uncertainty.
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