Two showjumping riders for Hungary have been exonerated by the FEI Tribunal, which is satisfied their horses were nobbled with a tranquiliser during an important competition.
The decision in the case of Mariann Hugyecz and Gabor Szabo Jr names a team reserve, Laszlo Toth Jr, as the primary suspect, with inquiries into his alleged involvement with the drugging being carried out by the Hungarian Equestrian Federation and the Slovakian police.
Hugyecz and Szabo were two of the four members of the national team selected by the Hungarian Equestrian National Federation to compete in the 2017 European Jumping Championships.
They have not received any suspension or fine as a result of the remarkable circumstances surrounding their cases, which are outlined in the tribunal’s 15-page decision.
The case arose from the pair’s involvement in the World Cup 3* showjumping qualifier in Bratislava, Slovakia, from August 4-6 last year.
Hugyecz was competing on Chacco Boy and Szabo on Timpex Bolscez. Both are grand prix showjumpers.
Details of events which led to both horses testing positive for acepromazine and its metabolic byproducts hydroxyethylpromazine/hydroxyethylpromazine sulphoxide were outlined in a written agreement reached between the riders and the FEI.
It was ratified and incorporated into the decision of the tribunal, comprising the chairman, Dr Armand Leone, sitting with Chris Hodson, QC, Henrik Arle.
Both horses were selected for testing on August 5, during the event, following a request by the testing veterinarian, Dr Miklos Jarmy, due to an alleged sabotage. Testing of the A sample in Britain revealed the presence of the drugs, which are classified as Controlled Medication Substances under the Equine Prohibited Substances List.
No provisional suspensions were imposed on the riders due to the circumstances.
The pair were not in a position to request the B samples be tested as these had been taken by the Slovakian Police.
Last September, the Hungarian Federation wrote a letter to the FEI explaining that the sample collections were not in connection with standing competition testing, but had been sought by the riders themselves after telling the president of the ground jury of their suspicions.
The two riders had noticed unusual signs from their horses the night before and the morning of the sample collection, when the horses were scheduled to compete. Both animals were unwell.
Both riders decided on horse welfare grounds against competing in the August 6 grand prix, bearing the consequences of not earning any points.
It transpires that, on August 5, two witnesses had noticed Toth leaving the box of Timpex Bolcsesz. He had not been authorized to enter. He explained that he had entered because he wanted to calm the horse.
Toth had earlier been appointed as wildcard of the national team of Hungary for the European Championships in Goteborg.
The Hungarian Equestrian Federation said it believed that the entrance of Toth to the box was highly likely to be in connection with the unwellness of the horse and the positive test result.
In the case of Chacco Boy, traces of injection use were found on the skin of the horse, which have been recorded and documented with clinical and ultrasonic examination.
The rider Szabo had immediately notified the stewards and the treating veterinarian about the incident involving his horse and its unusual behaviour.
The federation, in its letter, asked the FEI to handle the case, given the circumstances.
“Furthermore, we request that the two riders – that we believe had not committed a violation and despite their effort to discover the truth became victims of the case – be exempt from the consequences, therefore the fine, the disqualification of results and ranking points not be applied against them.”
It urged the FEI to take the case to the FEI Tribunal to determine the liability of Toth, and further asked that the tribunal, or FEI secretary general, provisionally suspend him pending the outcome.
“Based on the outspoken opinion of the riders on the case and the nature of Laszlo Toth Jr’s action, it represents a significant risk to the reputation of equestrian sport and violates the rules of ethics in a way that even the chance of the recurrence of such an act must be avoided by all means,” the Hungarian body said.
The Hungarian federation said it had already decided that it would not allow Toth to enter international competitions until a final decision was made, and that its jumping committee had launched a disciplinary procedure against him.
Szabo, in a submission, said Toth had been named as the fifth, spare member of the national team to compete in the 2017 European Jumping Championships. In the event that any member of the team became unable to compete, Toth would have been included in the competing national squad.
“With regard to possible motives, one would have reasonable grounds to suspect that Laszlo Toth Jr., as designated spare member of the Hungarian National Team registered to participate in the European Tournament, has an interest in one team member giving an inferior performance or failing two weeks before the 2017 European Championships and thus he himself becoming a real team member.”
A groom, it transpires, had seen Toth walk towards the box of Timpex Bolcsesz, with an apple and a syringe in his hands.
Chacco Boy was housed in a different stable, where evidence suggested the horse had been injected.
The FEI said Hugyecz and Szabo had offered a “very plausible explanation” as to how the medication came to be in the horses, based on the information that the horse had been sabotaged by Toth at the event site.
The world governing body said it was satisfied the pair had shown they bore No Fault or Negligence for the drug rule violations. “The FEI accepts that the circumstances of the case were truly exceptional,” it said.
“Substances in the horses’ samples were most likely due to sabotage of Mr Laszlo Toth,” it said, noting that the Hungarian federation had opened proceedings against him and issued a suspension.
The FEI said it appeared highly likely that Toth committed the sabotage to be able to compete at the European Championship.
It has reserved its right to open a case against Toth as an additional person responsible due to sabotage, and/or abuse of a horse.
The tribunal said it found no grounds to object or disapprove of the terms of the agreement and was satisfied it was a bona fide settlement of the cases.
The full tribunal decision can be read here.