Shampoo the latest prohibited substance
by Brian Lawlor
Hardly a month rolls by without racing getting unwelcome headlines because of the controversial Prohibited Substance rule.
We’ve already seen Alligator Blood disqualified from the $2 million Magic Millions Guineas after a substance that would have no impact on the horse’s performance was detected in a swab, but the latest case provides an even starker example of the absurdity of the rule.
Warwick Farm trainer Gary Portelli was charged after his horse Lord Zoulander returned a positive swab to a product called Minoxidil.
The owners lost the race and the trainer copped a $3000 fine, but examine the case a closely and the absurdity of the rule is fully exposed.
Minoxidil is a substance used in medicated hair growth shampoos.
Now the author of this piece is probably a candidate for such a product, but I’m pretty sure Lord Zoulander didn’t need it to win at Kembla Grange in May.
In the stewards report into the case it was established that a stable hand employed by Gary Portelli utilised such a medicated shampoo.
More importantly, the stewards reported that he estimated levels of Minoxidil detected by the Australian Racing Forensic Laboratory were considered low and most likely to be consistent with contamination and not administration.
And therein lies the problem. Testing of blood and urine samples are getting so sophisticated that minute amounts of chemicals are being picked up.
Horses licking coffee cups or coming into contact with a drug using stable hand can result in a positive result on race day.
The Rules Of Racing have no discretionary powers so that any horse with a prohibited substance simply has to be disqualified, even if the substance doesn’t improve the performance of a horse or if it’s in minute quantities that have no effect on speed or stamina.
Harness racing has seen a number of trainers charged after horses produced swabs with arsenic detected and that’s because that chemical is used to treat timber posts and is also contained in pine shavings used as bedding.
These trainers are losing races and fined a nominal fee simply because the rules of racing provide no discretion in dealing with prohibited substances.
This is a complex issue, but natural justice is not being served by the rigidity of this rule and it’s time a solution was found.