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Two Hungarian showjumpers had their horses doped by a rival rider who wanted to take their place on the team at the European Championships, according to the findings of an FEI tribunal.

In what the FEI branded a “truly exceptional case”, Timpex Bolcsesz, the ride of Gabor Szabo Jr, and Chacco Boy, the ride of Mariann Hugyecz, tested positive for banned sedative acepromazine (ACP) during a three-star World Cup qualifying show in Bratislava, Slovakia (4-6 August 2017).

Both riders had approached the president of the ground jury and requested that the horses be tested after noticing unusual symptoms and spotting needle marks. They also withdrew their rides from the following day’s grand prix.

Witnesses reported having seen Lazlo Toth Jnr — who had been named reserve for the Hungarian’s European squad — leaving the box of Timpex Bolcsesz on 5 August.

A statement from Attila Bor, the groom working for Hungarian rider Gyula Szuhai, also said he saw Toth approaching the box with an “apple and a syringe” in his hand.

Slovakian police were called to the scene by Timpex Bolcsesz’s owner Istvan Tarbaly and a legal complaint was subsequently filed against Toth for foreign property damage.

The rider was also was banned by his national federation, which additionally put in a request to the FEI to consider sanctions against him.

In a letter to the tribunal, the Hungarian federation said: “[We] believe that the entrance of Laszlo Toth Jr to the box of Timpex Bolcsesz is highly likely to be in connection with the unwellness of the horse (the behaviour of which has been recorded on camera) and the positive test result.

“In the case of Chacco Boy, traces of injection use were been found on the skin of the horse which had also been recorded and documented with clinical and ultrasonic examination.”

In addition, they asked that Hugyecz and Gabor Jnr be “exempt from the consequences of the case”.

“We believe [they] had not committed a violation and despite their effort to discover the truth [they] became victims of the case,” it continued.

The FEI panel concluded that there was a “very plausible explanation” as to how the drugs entered the horses’ systems, given the evidence that the animals had been sabotaged.

As a result, they found that the “persons responsible” [Gabor Jnr and Hugyecz] were not to blame for the doping rule violations.

While they did not face a ban or fine, their horses’ results from earlier in the show were stripped and the riders still faced legal costs.

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“The FEI accepts that the circumstances of the case were truly exceptional on the basis that the presence of the controlled substances in the horses’ samples were most likely due to sabotage of Mr Laszlo Toth,” the FEI statement concluded. “The Hungarian federation has already opened proceedings against Mr Laszlo Toth and suspended him from activity.

“As the fifth rider of the national team it is also highly likely that Mr Laszlo Toth has sabotaged for the persons responsible and their horses, in order to be able to compete at the European Championships.”

The FEI said the Hungarian federation is pursuing action against Toth and once there is a finding, it will decide whether to take action and has reserved the right to do so.

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