The disciplinary panel that banned Mahmood Al Zarooni for eight years over the use of anabolic steroids on horses did not accept the high-profile trainer’s explanation that he did not realise giving the drugs under such circumstances was banned in Britain.
Al Zarooni was banned late last week after he admitted to a “catastrophic error” in administering the steroids to 15 horses. The animals were part of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s prestigious Godolphin racing enterprise.
Two banned steroids, ethylestranol and stanozolol, were detected in the testing of 11 horses trained by Al Zarooni at his yard in Newmarket early in April. He admitted that four other horses not tested by authorities had also received the banned drugs.
The Disciplinary Panel of the British Horseracing Authority held an inquiry on April 25.
The panel, comprising Matthew Lohn, Hopper Cavendish and Edward Dorrell, noted that Al Zarooni had, at the outset, admitted all the alleged breaches and apologised for his actions.
The panel noted that Al Zarooni had been responsible for just over 200 horses at Godolphin’s Moulton Paddocks Stables in Newmarket, with samples taken from 45 during the April 9 testing.
Eleven of the animals returned positive tests for the steroids.
Al Zarooni was interviewed and explained that his knowledge of the drug came from working in Dubai, where use of anabolic steroids in training is permitted.
He told the investigating officer that he thought the drug could be used if the horse was not racing.
Al Zarooni confirmed that he had not recorded the administration of any of the anabolic steroids in the stable’s medication books. He could offer no explanation for this omission.
At the hearing Al Zarooni admitted, when questioned by the panel, that he personally brought the anabolic steroids into the UK in his luggage when returning from Dubai.
“Al Zarooni explained to the panel that in Dubai anabolic steroid drugs are given to horses in training. Having received the drug, the horses are only allowed to race following elapse of the 28 day withdrawal period for the drug.”
The panel continued: “In this case, Al Zarooni has admitted that he personally brought anabolic steroids into the UK from Dubai and asked his unqualified staff to administer the drugs.
“The panel considered there was no excuse for Al Zarooni to be in any doubt as to the illegality of administering anabolic steroids. The British Horseracing Authority has publicised this issue and, following the case of Howard Johnson in 2011, the matter was given further prominence.
“Al Zarooni’s assertion at the hearing that he did not know that such administration was not permitted in the UK was simply not truthful.
“He asserted that he was only trying to do the best for his horses who were unwell. He did not have a credible explanation as to why he had not discussed the matter with the stable’s veterinary surgeons or entered a record of the administration of the drugs in the stable’s medication books.
“The panel concluded that Al Zarooni sought to confer an unfair advantage on his horses by the underhand administration of illegal medication. His attempt at cheating was uncovered by the regulatory inspection and he had no justifiable excuse for his behaviour.
“The panel takes a very dim view of the sheer volume of horses who were subjected to these unlawful medication regimes. This was a widespread systematic misuse of illegal substances which are absolutely prohibited under the rules.
“Nearly a quarter of the 45 horses tested at the stables had positive samples. These were horses in training, some of which were entered into races in April and May.
“There is no doubt that the facilities available to Al Zarooni at Moulton Paddock Stables are impressive. He had access to expert veterinary advice from a number of sources but he deliberately ignored this resource and chose to covertly administer to horses in training anabolic steroids which he had brought back into the UK in his luggage from Dubai.
“These horses in question were being actively reviewed by veterinary surgeons during the period of administration of the drug. There was no reason for Al Zarooni’s failure to inform the veterinary surgeons of this treatment intervention unless as in this case the substance that was being administered was prohibited.
“The panel is firmly of the view that this was not an accidental or inadvertent misunderstanding of the rules – this was a deliberate flouting of the governance framework of British racing by one of the most high profile flat trainers working in the racing industry.
“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.”
The panel said it noted his apology and remorse, as well as his co-operation with the investigation, but said this did little to ameliorate the aggravating features of this case.
Al Zarooni’s actions had damaged the reputation of British racing, the panel said, in explaining why the penalty had been in the upper end of the range.