x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Godolphin's Mahmoud Al Zarooni facing lengthy suspension over steroid scandal

Urgent review of procedures underway by Godolphin in light of scandal that has rocked horse racing after 11 of the Emirati's horses tested positive for banned substances, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

Mahmoud Al Zarooni says he made 'a catastrophic error' after the BHA found traces of banned substances in 11 horses under his care at Newmarket, England. Caren Firouz / Reuters
Mahmoud Al Zarooni says he made 'a catastrophic error' after the BHA found traces of banned substances in 11 horses under his care at Newmarket, England. Caren Firouz / Reuters
As the Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford said late on Monday night in a carefully prepared statement, these are "dark days" indeed for the Dubai racing operation.
Trainer Mahmoud Al Zarooni faces an anxious wait as the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) tries to find a space in the diary to hear his case after 11 horses in his care tested positive for banned substances.
As Al Zarooni has already admitted culpability, a suspension at least the equal to the 12 months handed to trainer Howard Johnson in 2011 for giving three horses anabolic steroids would appear likely.
"The rules are fairly clear, and I think most trainers would be aware of those rules," the chief executive of the British Equine Veterinary Association, David Mountford, told BBC Five Live.
"The use of anabolic steroids in training is banned in UK racing. It's obviously being taken very seriously by all concerned. And I would expect if, as looks likely, people are found guilty of breaching the rules, they would be treated severely."
Crisford has already relayed to the world how the Godolphin founder Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, was appalled at hearing the news.
Al Zarooni's actions come just a month after Oliver Tait, the chief operating officer of Darley, Sheikh Mohammed's worldwide breeding operation, resigned from the Breeders' Cup committee after members voted to go back on their promise to widen the ban on the use of Lasix.
Lasix is a diuretic that helps prevent horses bleeding, but can also act as a masking agent to other drugs.
Tait's action seemingly underlined Sheikh Mohammed's dedication to drug-free sport.
That, in turn, came just five months after Frankie Dettori, so often the public face of Godolphin around the world, split from the Dubai-based operation, shortly before he was banned for six months by French authorities for failing a drug test.
With immediate effect, the 11 horses have been banned from racing and with anabolic steroids detectable in racehorses for up to three months, the horses may not race this season at all.
Throughout the winter, Certify was considered the most likely winner of the English 1000 Guineas, which takes place next Sunday in Newmarket.
Desert Blossom, third to subsequent UAE 1000 Guineas winner Lovely Pass at Ascot last season, was also entered in the opening fillies' classic of the British season.
Opinion Poll, who was second in the Ascot Gold Cup to Saeed bin Suroor's Colour Vision last season, was set to run at York Racecourse next month in the Yorkshire Cup.
Artigiano, who was sixth at the Breeders' Cup in November, held entries in the English 2000 Guineas and the Dante Stakes, but was more likely going to run in the Italian Derby on May 19.
Although 34 horses tested in Al Zarooni's care returned clean, Crisford claims everything is being done to prevent further problems emerging.
"Sheikh Mohammed has instructed me to begin an urgent review of all our procedures and controls," Crisford said in the Godolphin statement.
"That is already underway and we will take advice from the BHA in completing it."
The potential loss this season of Certify for Godolphin and European racegoers is huge, but Al Zarooni's function as a colleague to veteran handler Bin Suroor can barely be overstated.
Since being personally handed a trainer's licence by Sheikh Mohammed in 2010, Al Zarooni has had horses appear in his name over 1,000 times in Britain.
This season in Dubai, he had 80 runners, to result in a total number of 231 Dubai World Cup Carnival runners.
Arguably Al Zarooni's greatest moment came at the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in 2012 when he saddled Monterosso to victory in the world's richest race.
 
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