This is the first case to come before the British Horseracing Authority disciplinary panel but it is not the only case the authority is aware of. H&H finds out more, and what this will mean for riders in other disciplines
EQUESTRIANS competing under anti-doping rules have been warned of the low “but possible” risk of arsenic contamination from historically treated wood.
Racehorse Hell’s Kitchen, trained by Harry Fry, was found to have arsenic above the permitted level in his system after he finished fourth in the 2019 Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Mr Fry was cleared of any culpability by the British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) disciplinary panel on 29 March, so faced no sanctions other than the disqualification of Hell’s Kitchen from the race and the return of the £21,200 prize money. The most likely cause was said to be the horse chewing timber beams in his stable that had been treated with CCA (chromated copper arsenate) creosote years before Mr Fry moved into the yard in 2014. The horse was not unwell and Mr Fry has since moved again, for unrelated reasons.
Arsenic was historically used in creosote timber treatments, but was banned as an ingredient in the mid-2000s, and can linger for years.
The BHA started testing for arsenic at the start of 2019 and although Mr Fry’s case was the first to come before the panel, the hearing heard it is “not the only case [the BHA] is aware of”.
“There is a warning here about the danger of treated wood, which will no doubt be recognised by others that may be in the same position,” said panel chairman, Brian Barker QC.
Arsenic is currently a banned substance under FEI rules, but changes on how it is classified could be in the pipeline.
“Arsenic has this week been discussed by the FEI list group, which advises on the classification of substances within the FEI equine prohibited substances list,” FEI veterinary director Göran Åkerström told H&H.
“The Group’s proposal will now go forward for consultation with the national federations prior to approval by the FEI Board.
“As arsenic is an environmental contaminant, we are currently controlling reporting of arsenic findings with the use of an FEI screening limit, which is higher than the international threshold.”
David Rendle, chairman of the British Equine Veterinary Association’s health and medicines committee, told H&H after the hearing that arsenic is found in the environment at low levels, but at high levels it causes potentially fatal illness
“Because it is toxic, the inclusion of arsenic in many products, including timber preservatives, has been banned,” he explained. “Racehorses have tested positive for arsenic following ingestion of treated timber in a number of countries, and the feeding of seaweed (naturally high in arsenic) has also been implicated.
“Some racing authorities have issued warnings of the risks of racehorses chewing treated timber, but warnings were not issued in the UK because the introduction of testing for arsenic came some time after the use of arsenic in timber treatments was prohibited.”
Mr Rendle said Mr Fry’s case “highlights the possibility” that treated timber in old stables may contain arsenic.
“The chances of horses testing positive as a result of chewing timber are low, but this case demonstrates that it is possible,” he said. “As analytical methods become more sophisticated and minuscule concentrations of drugs and contaminants can be detected in urine, trainers face an increasingly difficult job eliminating the possibility of prohibited substances entering their horses.”
THE disciplinary panel heard that a series of events, including wet weather, meant the horse spent more time in his box than usual over the previous weeks. Teeth marks were found on the beams, and the arsenic levels in the wood in the stable were more than four times higher than in the neighbouring box.
There was debate over possible contributory factors, such as the amount of contaminated wood the horse would have needed to eat – suggested to be around 100g – and the possibility that arsenic levels within the timber itself may not be constant. There was also the question of whether the fact the sample was taken straight after the race, when the horse would have been dehydrated, may have had a bearing on the levels in his samples. The BHA tests to a threshold of 300ng/ml, and the amount found in Hell’s Kitchen’s urine sample was 337ng/ml. The B-sample confirmed the result.
Mr Fry’s barrister Roderick Moore told the hearing his client had cooperated fully with the BHA, and there was no suggestion he could have done anything further to prevent the positive test.
“His is a state-of-the art training establishment and no stone is left unturned in preventing positive samples,” he said.
“Every known precaution is taken and whenever the BHA gives out advice for trainers to be aware of, that advice is taken on board by Mr Fry. There is, at the moment, no advice about treated timber as I and Mr Fry understand it.”
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