The FEI announced last week (23 April) that New Zealand’s Jock Paget had lost his 2013 Burghley title, more than 6 months after the initial offence.
Jock’s ride Clifton Promise tested positive for the banned sedative reserpine at the horse trials last September. Reserpine is a long-lasting, powerful tranquillizer that some riders and trainers privately accept has been used in the past.
The result was confirmed on 26 November but, despite pressure from the equestrian community, the FEI refused to strip Jock of his title until a tribunal had been heard. A second horse in the same ownership, Clifton Pinot — ridden by Jock’s mentor, Australian Kevin McNab — also tested positive for reserpine at Burghley.
In an unprecedented move, Jock wrote to the FEI and requested that a “partial decision” be taken.
In a statement, the FEI explained Jock had accepted that a “banned substance had been found in the horse and requested that the FEI tribunal rule separately on the automatic disqualification from Burghley”.
A full tribunal, which will explore the circumstances and Jock’s punishment, has been scheduled for 3 June.
The 2013 Burghley title now belongs to Jock’s fellow Kiwi Andrew Nicholson.
Somewhat bizarrely, Kevin’s Burghley result, 13th, still stands. Burghley told H&H that last year’s prize-money will not be redistributed “until the FEI tribunal has issued its final decision in the McNab case”.
However, Jock and Kevin seem unlikely to lose out personally, since the owner of the Clifton horses, Frances Stead, confirmed: “I paid both Jock and Kevin their prize-money in 2013, as I said I would.”
Frustration on all sides
Riders and organisers have become increasingly vocal about the harmful time lag in concluding the tribunals for these cases.
“The case has left a cloud hanging over the sport for far too long and, for Jock’s sake, it could have been sorted out in a fraction of the time and the suspense lifted,” said William Fox-Pitt.
Frances Stead told H&H that she is “frustrated” by the length of time that the case is taking. When the positive samples were first discovered, Mrs Stead hired an expert scientist to help analyse the various sources of possible contamination.
In a statement in October, she said that the substance could be found in grassland and hedgerow plants in the UK. But vets H&H spoke to thought this was very unlikely.
“Both Jock and Kevin have always wanted things to be resolved quickly, and have done all they can to facilitate this,” said Mrs Stead. “Unfortunately, the timing has been outside their control.”
The FEI is signatory to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code and has to respect the WADA principles. The code states that all cases should take place in a “timely” manner, which will be dependent on the complexity of the case.
A spokesman from the FEI reiterated that “all parties have to have the right to be heard and have sufficient time to produce their submissions”.
Equestrian Sports New Zealand, which speaks on behalf of Jock, has confirmed that the full tribunal will take place in London and that Jock will present his evidence in person.
The FEI has told H&H the hearing, as with all hearings before the FEI tribunal, will be held in camera [closed door session]. The secretive nature of the process has frustrated some riders.
“It would be in the interest of the integrity of eventing for this procedure to be completely transparent,” said Event Riders Association chairman Bruce Haskell.
JOCK and Kevin could face bans of 2 years or longer if found guilty. The only way that a rider, who is deemed to be the “person responsible” for the horse, can be cleared is if they put forward a case that shows they are at “no fault or negligence”.
British endurance rider Christine Yeoman is the only rider to have been exonerated by the FEI on a doping charge.
Christine spent £200,000 on legal fees and proved that the substance found in her horse — ractopamine — derived from a contaminated supplement.
The same firm that successfully defended Christine — Burges Salmon — is representing Jock.
The horses’ owner remains positive that both Jock and Kevin will be cleared.
“Neither has done anything wrong nor anything to bring this unfortunate position upon themselves,” said Mrs Stead. “As a result, I am expecting that the FEI tribunal finds them both ‘no fault’ when their cases are eventually heard.”
The eventing community now turns its attention to Badminton (8-11 May), where William Fox-Pitt will try and secure the second leg of eventing’s grand slam. But H&H is betting that last year’s winner Jock won’t be on the programme cover.
What the riders say:
Mark Todd: “I don’t think the FEI has played the role it should have. Once the B sample tested positive, Jock should have lost Burghley. Jock is a friend, but he’s been left in limbo. Everyone knew that Andrew [Nicholson] was going to win Burghley so why the FEI took so long to [make the decision] I’ve no idea, but the FEI is at fault.”
William Fox-Pitt: “The protracted nature of the case is unreasonable and unfair and it ensures that everyone is in limbo. It wouldn’t happen in any other sport and it shouldn’t happen in ours. I hope it’s all coming to an end. It doesn’t look very professional.”
Andrew Nicholson (as told to TVNZ): “You will be hearing all this bullsh*t about what a good man Jock was for surrendering it, well that’s a load of bullsh*t, he surrendered nothing, he didn’t have it to f****** start with, he lost it the moment the horse was tested.”