A lawyer involved in high-profile feed contamination cases has called for more leniency in racing and equestrian anti-doping rules in cases where fault is accepted by feed suppliers.

Jeremy Dickerson, who recently represented eventer Jock Paget, said new contamination cases in the racing industry highlighted that no-one was “immune.”

Mr Dickerson was commenting on last week’s (21 July) revelations that the Queen’s 2014 Ascot Gold Cup runner-up Estimate (pictured above), trained by Sir Michael Stoute, is among seven racehorses testing positive for the banned substance morphine — at least four having been fed suspected contaminated Dodson & Horrell Alfalfa Oil Plus.

Dodson & Horrell immediately recalled the affected batch and traced the source — presumed to be rogue poppy seeds — to the fibre supplier.

But there is pressure to isolate the cause. Further racing cases are rumoured, and Dodson & Horrell is official supplier to the British equestrian team heading for the World Equestrian Games. Allen and Page also uses the same supplier and says it found low levels of contamination in a raw material, however the company has no involvement with the positive tests outlined.

Alfalfa Oil Plus is aimed at elite horses, who in turn are subject to sophisticated anti-doping sampling by racing jurisdictions and the FEI. Morphine is allowed in training, but not on racedays in racing. In equestrianism morphine appears on the controlled medications list, meaning it is banned in competition, but exceptions can be applied for.

However, even when connections are ultimately exonerated of blame or intent to influence performance, they are still subjected to disqualification from the relevant race or competition. The National Trainers’ Association says it may seek discussions about compensation.

Estimate faces disqualification from this year’s race, forfeiting the £80,625 prize money.

Rigorous testing by feed companies

This is the first morphine contamination case since the Naturally Occuring Prohibited Substances (NOPS) scheme was introduced in 2009 by the British Equestrian Trade Association. Most manufacturers adhere, reducing the risk of accidental contamination in the supply and manufacture chains by rigorous testing.

NOPS followed a lengthy court case after the Willie Mullins-trained Be My Royal was disqualified from the 2002 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup. Between that incident and 2009,
45 British racehorses and nine Irish returned positive morphine tests, linked at the time to feed from Dodson & Horrell and Connolly’s Red Mills.

In 2010, Mr Dickerson successfully represented British endurance rider Christine Yeoman at a FEI doping Tribunal, tracing the source of her ractopamine-contaminated supplement to a bona fide US factory.

The FEI Tribunal ruled that feeding supplements to top level equine athletes was not “optional” and that riders and trainers “are not the proper party to bear the risk of supplements contaminated at manufacturer level”. However, Mrs Yeoman still forfeited her Euston Park win.

Mr Dickerson recently represented Burghley winner Jock Paget, whose provisional suspension for reserpine was lifted in June using a similar no-fault, no negligence defence. “The morphine case is still unravelling, but it illustrates that however reputable your supplier, no-one is immune,” said Mr Dickerson. “When the issue of contamination seems rife, it always strikes me as unfair that you can still get your ban.”

All racehorses that have returned positive samples were tested between 19-26 June.

The BEF told H&H that they did not know yet whether any riders “had fallen foul” during its testing, but that all riders using the affected feed had been contacted.

“I am completely satisfied that Dodson & Horell have reacted quickly and efficiently,” said Will Connell of the BEF. “I do not see this having any negative effect on the British teams preparing for Hickstead or WEG. There was a mistake made, it was identified and rectified and this is not a cause for panic.”

First published in Horse & Hound magazine on 31 July 2014