Anabolic steroids permitted in UAE to aid horses recovery from colic or serious fractures
The most common misconception surrounding anabolic steroids is that they are taken to immediately boost match-day performance.
From the most famous case of Ben Johnson, who failed a drugs test after running the 100 metres in record time at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, right through to the 11 horses that tested positive under Mahmoud Al Zarooni's care, anabolic steroids are generally administered to enhance training.
Johnson's case is important, because not only did it act as a landmark to bring doping into the public consciousness, but the Canadian sprinter reportedly used stanozolol, the drug that showed up in the samples of four of Al Zarooni's horses.
"As with all athletes, anabolic steroids increase muscle mass, strength and recovery from workload," said Dr David Sykes, the veterinary steward of the Emirates Racing Authority.
"It allows an ability to perform at a better level in training and at a higher rate. It provides bigger and stronger muscles for explosive-type sports. It is why human sprinters take it and not marathon runners."
Anabolic steroids are allowed to be used in the UAE if horses are not in training and are recovering from problems such as colic surgery or serious fractures to combat muscle wastage. Racehorses must then come to race day trace-free.
The standardised levels to these traces are very low given the hormone levels of geldings in comparison to red-blooded colts.
Depending on the recommended dosage, anabolic steroids can remain in the bloodstream of a thoroughbred for between four weeks and three months.
In Australia, the rules of racing are exactly the same as they are in the UAE, whereas in racing jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, anabolic steroids are seen in a very different light by one of the strictest governing bodies in world racing.
In Hong Kong horses can receive anabolic steroids only if the head clinical vet of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the head regulatory vet has seen the horse and recommended a specific dosage of medication.
The horse is then monitored by those vets until such a point that it is considered timely to come off medication after which a programme to race day is set out.
To many, there is no place for anabolic steroids at all in racing.
James Given, the British trainer and vet who has had runners at Meydan Racecourse during the Dubai World Cup said: "It is, without doubt, a performance-enhancing drug.
"It's not just active while the drug is in the body and many of these drugs will persist in the body for several months but it's the effect on the muscle development beyond its natural capacity."
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Updated: April 23, 2013 04:00 AM