Three Eventing riders suspended over anabolic steroids in their horses

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Three Eventing riders from India have been suspended for two years after their respective mounts tested positive for a muscle-building steroid at a competition in Delhi.

The horses Golden Boy, Cantolina and Black Beauty each tested positive for the anabolic steroid boldenone, which is a banned substance under the FEI’s anti-doping regulations.

Black Beauty also tested positive for the controlled medication meloxicam, which is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug with painkilling effects.

The three horses had competed in a CCI1* competition from November 27 to 30 last year.

Golden Boy had been ridden by Raj Kumar, Cantolina by Apurva Dabhade, and Black Beauty by Sarvesh Singh Pal.

The FEI Tribunal issued separate decisions for each of the cases, suspending each rider and imposing modest fines on them.

The FEI observed that while the cases had arisen at the same event and in the same discipline, the horses were stabled up to 1500km apart and the sole connecting factor was the horses were fed rice, oats and corn oil. In addition, the riders were all people within the military or police.

On 16 January, Colonel Mangal Singh submitted some explanations in relation to the three cases. In essence, he argued that the cases involved some kind of contamination.

His submission argued that the boldenone originated from campesterol – a precursor of the anabolic steroid – which is found in many naturally occurring vegetables.

The colonel noted that an internet search revealed that campesterol was a phytosterol found in most  vegetables, oats, banana, potatoes, corn, cucumber, onion, lemon grass, pomegranate, grapefruit, pepper, coffee etc.

The FEI subsequently consulted the expert, Dr James Scarth, asking him to clarify whether plant sterols could lead to a positive finding of boldenone at the concentrations found in the cases at hand.

Dr Scarth said he had not yet seen any convincing evidence of actual conversion of plant sterols to boldenone. “Therefore, whilst the plant sterol theory remains plausible, it is not tangible in the same way as other explanations being scientifically proved.”

He continued: “Since any feed products typically only contain relatively low amounts of steroids, I consider it highly unlikely that direct conversion of these to boldenone are the cause of the analytical findings for boldenone in the 10-50 ng/ml region in urine.”

The rider Kumar explained that he had been in the Indian army since 2011 and had been allotted the horse, Golden Boy. He said no boldenone was given either by him, or his support staff, or by a veterinarian. Boldenone was not made in India, and its use there was very uncommon.

He submitted that while Dr Scarth stated that the plant sterol theory was “highly unlikely”, the expert did not rule it out completely.

Kumar asked that the benefit of the doubt be given in his favour.

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

It noted Dr Scarth’s expert view, that it was highly unlikely the presence of boldenone was caused by products containing plant sterols in the range of the concentration found in the case at hand, as well as in the other two cases.

Furthermore, there was no connection between oats and corn oil and the boldenone positive.

It was not, the FEI said, a “non-significant concentration” of the drug.

There was, it argued, no reliable proof of how the substance entered the horse’s body.

The tribunal, comprising Chris Hodson, Cesar Torrente and Constance Popineau, said it made no finding of intent against Kumar. “The tribunal notes that the science relating to boldenone presence is in a developing state.”

However, if Kumar cannot show the source of the banned substance then the rules require that consequences must follow. The tribunal found that he had not established, on a balance of probability, how the boldenone had entered the horse’s system.

He was suspended from competition for two years and fined 300 Swiss francs. No costs were imposed on him.

The case of Black Beauty, ridden by Sarvesh Singh Pal, traversed broadly the same circumstances.

Pal said he was head constable and a government employee with the Indo Tibetan Border Police Force. He has been riding the government-issued horse in various competitions.

With regard to the meloxicam, he explained that the horse had suffered from colic 10 days before the event and medical staff had given some supportive treatment to get rid of the colic. The meloxicam was used to save the horse from dying, and there had been no bad faith in the use of the drug.

In relation to the boldenone positive, he had no idea how the substance got into the horse’s system, as it was not used by him or his staff.

Sometimes, they fed oats and corn oil that were rich sources of campesterol, which acted as a precursor of boldenone, he noted.

The tribunal noted that, like the previous case, Pal had failed to show on the balance of probabilities how the boldenone had entered the horse’s system.

Pal was of suspended for two years and fined 250 Swiss francs. No costs were imposed against him.

In the case of Cantolina, similar circumstances were traversed. The rider, Apurva Dabhade, said a product had been given to the horse to improve its condition which may have been responsible for the positive test due to its effects on metabolic processes within the horse.

However, the tribunal was told by Dr Scarth that its sole ingredient, gamma oryzanol, a natural extract from rice bran oil, could only potentially lead to a minor to moderate elevation of natural testosterone levels as might theoretically occur with some feeds. It was very unlikely, on its own, to lead to the observation of boldenone as a direct testosterone metabolite, he said.

Dabhade further submitted that the positive finding could also be due to a false positive due to faecal cross contamination, or the presence of phytosterols/campesterol, which are precursors of boldenone in some feeds.

Deliberate sabotage could also not be ruled out, he argued.

The FEI said the rider had provided several theories, but none of them met the balance of probability threshold in its view.

The tribunal suspended Dabhade for two years and fined him 600 Swiss francs. No costs were imposed against him.

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