Endurance rider lays blame for failed drug test on fungus-affected oats

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An Endurance rider who believed her horse failed a drug test because of contaminated oats has been suspended and fined by the FEI Tribunal.

The tribunal considered Victoria Goñi’s explanation that contamination by the fungus ergot was responsible for the failed drug test, but it described her explanation as speculation.

She had been unable to prove to the tribunal’s satisfaction that the presence of ergonovine in her mount El Mate was a result of ingesting mycotoxins arising from ergot contamination of his oats.

The tribunal, comprising Laurent Niddam, Cesar Torrente and Constance Popineau, imposed a two-year suspension. They fined her 3000 Swiss francs and ordered her to contribute 1500 Swiss francs toward the cost of the judicial procedure.

The case against the Uruguay-registered rider arose following a CEI2* 120km race in Trinidad, Uruguay, in early February last year.

El Mate was selected for routine sampling, with the banned substance ergonovine subsequently detected in his urine and blood.

Ergonovine is a vasoconstrictor (it narrows the blood vessels) and is used to prevent bleeding.

Goñi, in her explanation, said El Mate had been fed oats for two months in the lead-up to the Endurance contest.

She submitted information on the fungus Claviceps purpurea, known as ergot, which can infect grain.

Infected crops, if fed to livestock, can cause a disease called ergotism. It can even lead to gangrene of the limbs due to a failure in peripheral blood circulation.

Horses can be exposed to ergot and its toxins by eating contaminated food.

She also produced a statement from the horse’s veterinarian, Dr Mirenxu Posada.

Posada said El Mate had never been administered anything unintentionally and that no medication was given to the horse containing ergonovine – a toxin produced by ergot, which was a very common fungus in Uruguay.

Dr Gonzalo Saralegui, who is the national head veterinarian of the equestrian federation in Uruguay, said there was no commercial medication in Uruguay which contained ergonovine that could be administered to horses.

Saralegui concluded that the only way in which the ergonovine could have entered El Mate’s body was through its food. This, he argued, exempted the rider from her responsibility in the case.

Goñi said that, until the case arose, she not been aware of the existence of the fungus. It was, she noted, the first time that a horse in Uruguay had tested positive for the substance.

Further, no-one would use ergonovine, given the adverse effect it might have on sports horses.

However, she was not able to prove that the oats eaten by El Mate were contaminated with the fungus due to the two months which had elapsed between the event and the formal letter telling her of the drugs breach.

The FEI, in its submission, said Goñi had to provide clear and convincing evidence that proved how the ergonovine had entered the horse’s system.

She had, it said, only indicated that the presence of ergonovine can be a result of a specific fungus.

“However, there was no real connection between these facts and the case at hand; the explanations therefore remained mere speculations,” it submitted.

“The FEI was therefore of the opinion that (Goñi) has not clearly established how the substance entered the body of the horse.”

It said that while ergonovine was a substance mainly used to stop bleeding, one side-effect was that it lowered the heart rate, and could therefore be abused in Endurance.

It submitted that a two-year suspension was appropriate in the case, with a fine of 3000 Swiss francs, as well as a contribution toward the cost of the legal procedure.

The tribunal, in its decision, said the strict liability principle applied in such cases. In this instance, Goñi had not provided any evidence that the oats fed to El Mate in the months leading up to the event had been contaminated with the fungus.

She had not, it ruled, established how the ergonovine had entered El Mate’s system. This meant it could not apply the rules that would allow for a reduction in the length of the suspension.

It imposed a two-year suspension, less the time already served under a provisional suspension. She will be eligible to compete against after April 4 next year.

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