Excessive testosterone levels found in an Endurance horse who competed over 160km in a contest at Euston Park, England, have result in both the rider and trainer being fined and banned by the FEI Tribunal.
The rider, Saeed Mohammed Khalifa Al Mehairi, who is registered with the United Arab Emirates, rode UAE-registered Shaddad in the CEI3* 160km ride held at the venue on July 13 last year.
Shaddad, a gelding, had blood and urine samples taken for testing. Analysis revealed the presence of testosterone in the urine sample. The internationally agreed threshold for free and conjugated testosterone in a gelding’s urine is 20 nanograms per millilitre.
Shaddad’s concentration of testosterone was found to be 35 nanograms per millilitre.
Testosterone is an anabolic steroid with anabolic effects, and is produced naturally by male horses. However, testosterone detected in a gelding’s sample at a level above the threshold is classified as a banned substance under the FEI’s anti-doping rules.
On August 8 Al Mehairi was officially notified of the result through the UAE national federation and a provisional suspension was imposed.
A B sample test was requested, which returned a level of 40.0 ng/mL.
Subsequently, the FEI Legal Department officially notified the trainer, Ismail Mohammed, of MRM Stable in the UAE, that as the registered trainer of the horse he qualified as a member of the support personnel, and was considered an additional person responsible for the rule violation.
Dr Armand Leone, sitting as a one-member tribunal panel, fined each of the men 7500 Swiss francs after considering the evidence. Each was suspended for two years, and were ordered to each contribute 2500 francs towards legal costs in the case.
Both must also bear the cost of having the B sample analysed.
Both had submitted to the FEI Tribunal that they bore no fault or negligence for the drug finding and had asked that all sanctions be eliminated.
In their defence, they submitted a statement by Saleem Khan, the groom of the horse during the event.
He said he had been using a cream on his shoulders for muscle treatment every morning, including on the day of the event, on the advice of a friend. He did not realise that the cream would affect the horse in his care.
The rider and trainer also produced a certificate of analysis and a statement by the Equine Forensic Unit Laboratory confirming that it had analysed a “yellow cream” which was found to contain testosterone at about 3 micrograms per gram.
The lab further stated: “If this cream is applied on any subject, this might result in the cream to be absorbed which may lead to adverse analytical findings.”
The pair also provided photos of the cream and its label, which states that the product contains “Testosterone 2.5% 20 gm”.
The pair argued that the only plausible source of the testosterone was the cream via the groom, who had close contact with the horse.
Al Mehairi and Mohammed said they investigated various other scenarios for the source of the testosterone, including contamination of feed or supplements, medical conditions of the horse, medical treatment history and even sabotage, but none turned out to be plausible or reasonable.
They argued they bore absolutely no responsibility for the rule violation as it was caused by contamination through use of the cream by a groom on his shoulders. The groom, they noted, had been a diligent worker for six years.
The drug breach, they argued, was caused by the misconduct of a third person and was completely outside their own sphere of influence.
Mohammed further argued that he could not be held accountable as an additional person responsible in the case. He had more than 300 horses to look after. He did not and could not make decisions for each and every one of those horses.
The FEI, in its submission, said it sought the expert opinion of Dr Stuart Paine, Associate Professor of Veterinary Pharmacology at the University of Nottingham in England.
Dr Paine came to the conclusion that – based on his calculations based on scientific literature – it was highly implausible that the cream used by the groom for his muscle soreness could explain the concentration of testosterone measured in the urine of the horse.
Further, he explained that from a pharmacological point of view the most common medications used for muscle soreness would be a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkiller, especially applied topically as a cream/gel to the muscle, or the administration of a corticosteroid into the muscle.
He was not aware of testosterone being used for muscle soreness.
Dr Paine explained that, assuming the groom used the whole box of cream (20 grams) and rubbed it into the muscle, and 10 percent of this ended up on his hands, based on scientific literature, the expected concentration of testosterone in the urine would be 0.12 ng/ml testosterone – well below the level found in the horse.
The FEI noted that no explanation was forthcoming as to why the groom needed this cream, nor was a medical certificate submitted. It also questioned why the groom did not wash his hands, or wear gloves when treating the horses, especially given that he was on medication.
It rejected Mohammed’s argument that centred around the number of horses he was training. “If the trainer in the present case cannot care for 300 horses, the FEI finds that he should not be the registered trainer for all of them, and he could delegate his responsibilities,” it said.
“The FEI takes it for granted that the registered trainer is employed to train the horses he is registered for.”
The FEI said the strict liability rule applied in cases such as this.
It argued that the rider and trainer should be fined 7500 Swiss francs each, and ordered to pay legal costs of 2500 francs, as well as the cost of the B-Sample testing.
Dr Leone, in his decision, noted that the level of testosterone in the horse’s urine was not explainable by the alleged contamination with the testosterone cream used by the groom.
Further, he found that the use of the testosterone cream for sore muscles was not plausible.
“As a result, the tribunal does not find the explanations put forward by [Al Mehairi and Ismael Mohammed] as more likely than not,” he said. The pair had therefore not met the required standard of proof on a balance of probabilities.
Therefore, they had not established how the testosterone entered Shaddad’s system.
He imposed the fines and suspensions. Al Mehairi will be ineligible to compete until August 7 next year. Mohammed’s suspension will run until August 12 next year.