Godolphin criticised in doping investigation

BHA finds banned trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni acted alone in horse doping scandal, but questions remain unanswered.

Mahmood Al Zarooni
The report found a number of key failings at Godolphin’s Moulton Paddocks stables [Reuters]

Hot on the heels of Lord Coe suggesting athletics can do more to stop drugs cheats, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority lamented on Thursday the lack of resources at his disposal to prevent further doping in British racing following the Godolphin doping scandal.

Paul Bittar’s comments came on the same day that his organisation released the report on their investigation into the doping scandal that has engulfed Godolphin, the international racing stable of Sheikh Mohammed based in Newmarket and Dubai.

Britain has had enhanced doping procedures in place since 2002 and since then has had a zero-tolerance policy towards anabolic steroids, which are still permitted in other racing jurisdictions.

The Godolphin doping scandal is the second significant doping of racehorses in recent years after Howard Johnson was found to be using steroids on horses in 2008 and 2009.

“The BHA’s doping budget has, due to the broader economics of the sport, undergone a significant reduction in recent years and this highlights the need to ensure we remain at the forefront of world racing in terms of our programme and resources,” Bittar said.

“While we believe the sport’s independent regulation has stood up throughout this process, the BHA is committed to continue to fight against those who cheat the sport.”


The BHA report signals the end of the four-month investigation in to the doping that took place at Godolphin’s Moulton Paddocks stables in Newmarket and the regulatory body saw no reason to issue further disciplinary action after Mahmood Al Zarooni was disqualified from racing for eight years in April.

In a nine-page document the BHA heavily criticised the Godolphin management, stating that it lacked responsibility and accountability and that this paucity of leadership led directly to Al Zarooni’s systematic doping programme to occur under their noses.

Due to the international outlook of Godolphin and the participation of their horses in the Dubai World Cup Carnival in Dubai from January to March each year, a skeleton staff is left in Newmarket during those months to look after horses that remain in England.

Often junior staff are left behind and a lack of clearly defined roles within the organisation and an efficient management structure allowed Al Zarooni to effectively act as he pleased.

The investigation found that Al Zarooni was able to act in a manner which marginalised several of his senior staff, which subsequently resulted in these events being able to unfold entirely without their knowledge or oversight

by BHA report,

“The investigation found that Al Zarooni was able to act in a manner which marginalised several of his senior staff, which subsequently resulted in these events being able to unfold entirely without their knowledge or oversight,” the report stated.

Previously the BHA had painted a cloak-and-dagger picture of Al Zarooni handing out syringes out of car windows when they revealed their initial findings after Al Zarooni’s hearing at the end of April.

The fates of the hapless Sahrif Mahboob, the veterinary assistant at the centre of the doping scandal, and Arvind Pillay and Sashan Jadhav, the two foreman named for the first time in the report, remain the sole responsibility of Godolphin.  

The BHA have submitted a separate document to Godolphin in order for the organisation to implement the necessary structural and procedural changes and the organisation will be monitored constantly until the BHA sees fit to scale down their level of scrutiny.

“The evidence gathered from this investigation has confirmed that Mahmood Al Zarooni acted autonomously and was the person solely responsible for the events that took place at Moulton Paddocks,” Adam Bicknell, director of integrity, legal and risk at the BHA, said.

Saeed Bin Suroor, Godolphin’s long-standing trainer, has been overseeing all 400 Godolphin horses based in Newmarket since Al Zarooni was disqualified. He will hand over the reins at Moulton Paddocks to Al Zarooni’s former assistant, Charlie Appleby, to whom the BHA handed a training licence on Thursday.

Appleby, 38, has been a Godolphin employee for 15 years and is considered a fit and proper person for the role after three interviews with the BHA licensing committee. According to the BHA Appleby has already started to undo the processes put into place by Al Zarooni.

“We are satisfied that Charlie Appleby had no awareness of the actions of Al Zarooni,” Bricknell added.

“We are aware that Appleby has already begun the process of implementing changes to the management structure and procedures at the yard and we will encourage him to continue to implement such changes, including addressing all the points in our report.”

Questions remain

The BHA have left many questions unanswered, however.

After 11 horses tested positive for steroids in April, Al Zarooni came forward with the names of four additional horses that he was responsible for administering anabolic steroids to. At no point did he mention the names of the seven further horses, including the English Classic winner Encke, that tested positive in May in a second round of testing by the BHA testing team.

Even now the BHA have little idea who was responsible for administering drugs to these horses, and creatively placed the blame on Al Zarooni despite no supporting evidence.

“On the balance of probabilities and owning to an absence of any evidence to the contrary the views of the investigating officers of the BHA is that the administration of these substances was carried out by Al Zarooni in a similar manner to the earlier identified 15,” the report said.

There is no place at all for assumption in investigations of this nature.

The BHA consider the case now closed. With questions such as this still lingering the case in the minds of many others remains very much open.

Geoffrey Riddle is an international horseracing writer for Racing UK and The National, the quality daily based in the UAE. He has covered racing for the Sunday Times, Reuters, Agence-France Presse and the International Herald Tribune. You can follow him on Twitter at @louchepunter

Source: Al Jazeera