Did top endurance team run a ringer? [H&H VIP]

  • The FEI has reopened an investigation into allegations that the UAE’s gold medal-winning team at the 2012 World Endurance Championships included a “ringer”. There are doubts whether a horse on that team was actually the horse that had qualified and been entered as Marmoog.

    The FEI admitted last week that rumours about the horse’s identity had been investigated at the time, but there was insufficient evidence.

    But on Friday it referred the case back to Quest, its integrity unit, after viewing photographs showing Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, riding 2 markedly different chestnuts.

    Inconsistent markings
    Both horses were identified as Marmoog, at the Euston Park world title ride and the qualifier in Numana, Italy, 2 months earlier.

    The horse competed for the UAE 3 times in 2012, the second 2 in European rides attracting extensive media coverage. But although numerous pictures have been archived online ever since, the anomalies only became clear following an anonymous “tip-off” last week.

    The discovery that Marmoog’s name had been changed from Prince De La Sabliere on 7 August 2012, just 3 weeks before Euston, eased the tracking of images.

    The Marmoog at Euston has a broad white blaze and white stocking on his near hindleg.

    At Numana, FEI records show the UAE ran “Marmoog” under his original name. That horse has no white markings apart from a thin stripe partway down his head and a white mark on his muzzle.

    The latter is identical to pictures of the younger Marmoog/Prince De La Sabliere competing in France with his previous owners. He was sold as a 9-year-old to the Maktoums’ Nad Al Sheba stables over the winter of 2011-2012.

    Real Marmog at Numana, June 2012

    Repeated attempts to reach a spokesman for Sheikh Hamdan have been unsuccessful.

    At Euston, Sheikh Hamdan was eliminated at the third vetgate (vet check), as the horse had a minor injury. His father Sheikh Mohammed won individual gold. At Numana, Sheikh Hamdan finished second to Sheikh Mohammed.

    Paperwork ‘all in order’
    Horse identification is rigorously checked at all equestrian competitions and increasingly relies on microchip-scanning, as well as visual comparison with a horse’s paper passport. FEI veterinary regulations stress the importance of identification for both integrity and biosecurity reasons.

    The FEI told H&H that Marmoog was properly checked before being allowed into the stables at Euston and his paperwork was “all in order”.

    Asked how 2 horses could carry the same identity numbers, FEI replied: “It is the role of the national federations to register horses and issue FEI passports.

    “In the event of a name change, which is also done by the national federations, both names are registered on the cover of the passport and are available on the FEI database on a permanent basis.

    The FEI added: “As with any case, if new and usable evidence is forthcoming, the case would be reopened and the Equestrian Community Integrity Unit would further investigate the matter.

    “It is the responsibility of anyone in possession of any evidence relating to integrity issues to forward this to the governing body and/or the integrity unit. As in all investigations, the FEI will follow due process, including taking a case to the FEI tribunal where appropriate.”

    Management shake-up
    Sheikh Mohammed’s company, Janah Management, organised the 2012 World Championships and all other rides at Euston Park.

    The venue hosted nearly half the UK international endurance calendar until May 2013, when it cancelled all fixtures after the UAE’s endurance doping record received global media attention.

    Janah was last month replaced as rides organiser by Meydan — another company owned by Sheikh Mohammed — in a staff shake-up that followed the Quest investigation into the management of Sheikh Mohammed’s global equine operations.

    This is not the first time endurance horses’ identity has been questioned. In November, the FEI revealed it had tried to investigate an alleged mid-ride swap involving a different UAE rider in 2011. Pictures appeared on social media, but the FEI said the investigation failed because it could not obtain the originals and witness statements were not forthcoming.

    This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (13 March 2014)