Who wants a drug free sport?
I can picture all those “damn rights’ and ‘obviouslys’ being accompanied by some hefty table thumping.
Not for me.
“A drugs free sport” is one of those phrases that is easy to spout when we are feeling self righteous and superior.
It goes in the ‘bag of rights’ that includes ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘human rights’. . . . .until a big mouthed bigot decides that he can demand beheadings for offending Islam and can sue the Government for daring to arrest him.
Nobody wants cheats to prosper. Or to see animals abused. Or to see races determined by chemists instead of greyhounds and trainers. Fundamentally though, the concept of ‘a drug free sport’ is flawed in two main ways.
1) Drugs = medicines
2) The world is not sterile
(As an aside, how many of you table bangers would actually pass a GBGB drugs tests today? Absolutely no residues of coffee, chocolate, paracetamol, antihistamines – and I am not even going near those who fancy a spliff or line of Columbian marching dust. . )
In the last 30 years, there has been no subject on which I have had more rows with the racing authorities than drug testing.
But as the industry dinosaurs died off (less often or quickly than I would have liked), or retired on big pensions (eg the Chuckle Brothers), we have seen significant progress.
I was among those who campaigned passionately for the NGRC to allow female hormone for season suppression. At one stage, the Club were so obsessed with ‘drug free’ that they preferred bitches to race mid-oestrus. (Which bit of ‘integrity’ or ‘welfare’ does that validate?)
The change was eventually agreed – and guess what! Bedlam did not break out! Nor did the wheels come off when GBGB finally agreed to a ‘first aid’ box.
There is of course, another aspect, with drugs that could never squeeze through as ‘medicinal’. Though rare, we should never underestimate their importance. (I believe there is a case of this type due before the stewards shortly).
Drug testing has been used in dog racing for more than 60 years. Those of us of a certain vintage will recall presenting dogs for pre-race chromatography, a pointless expensive exercise that was easy to beat and actually aided dopers by providing a false sense of security.
Throughout that time, the confirmatory testing was carried out at Glasgow University – who, in hindsight, couldn’t have detected Amy Winehouse in a crack den. The switch to the Newmarket laboratories saw all hell break loose as some of the biggest names in the sport was outed, and some careers never recovered.
While it is easy to flag up bronchial dilators, anabolic steroids or sedatives, the vast majority of positives are not sinister.
Bear in mind, that the percentage of positive tests is less than a half of one percent, and the vast majority of those – to quote Baldrick, were caught visiting the home of Mr Cock Up.
Training greyhounds is, and has always been a case of trying to overcome natural problems but trying to calculate how long before the medicine becomes a detectable positive.
Trainers are asked to do their best to present dogs fit and able to race, but if there are still residues of any medicine, they are treated like animal abusers.
Of course, life and technology moves on.
Some of us have dreaded the improved sensitivity of testing – and widespread circulation of Class A drugs for a fear of more unfair positives. We a dealing with extremely small numbers. Did you know that a nanogram is a billionth of a gram or 1/10,000,000,000 of a gram?
However, more recently, a series of incidents have convinced me that the racing authorities are taking the opportunity to use the technology to increase fairness.
Yes, we can detect a drug, but we can now also verify that it is in such low quantities as to be insignificant for any practical purpose.
In the old days, any kind of trace was considered as a smoking gun. ‘We know you’ve been at it, you just dropped the levels before we tested you’.
Last week a Florida judge threw out 24 cocaine positives against two trainers. Followers of the GBGB Calendar will have noticed a warning about the use of the anti-inflammatory, Meloxicam (commonly sold as Metacam, Inflacam and Rheumocam) within 30 days of a race or trial.
This comes as a result of research involving the UK and Australian racing authorities.
Over time, the authorities have become increasingly confident that they can distinguish between trace residues and genuine doping attempts.
I only discovered recently, that while GBGB do not operate ‘residues’ they do operate a ‘screening limit’ on certain drugs.
The difference between the two is subtle, but important. A residue level needs to be integrated into the rules and is ‘public’ and ‘fixed’. A screening limit is known only to the regulator and can be tweaked based on updated evidence – as in the case of Meloxicam.
It will be interesting to see whether the IGB have monitored the Florida judgements having decided to make the Clonbrien Hero positive public.
(I would suggest that it cost Hero a shot at the Irish Greyhound of the Year title – but then the kennel couldn’t win it the previous year with an Irish Derby winner – the award being given to the English Derby winner)
A final thought on the subject concerns another English Derby winner, or more precisely, the trainer of that winner (Salad Dodger), Bruno Berwick. The popular owner trainer was so outraged at a cocaine positive that he handed in his licence.
It has been suggested that under current testing procedures, Bruno, and several others, would have fallen below the screening limit with no case to answer. . . .
As a GBGB director, John Curran was effectively gagged as he trembled like a Jack Russell with the scent of rats in his nostrils as he contemplated the antis.
He retired at the end of last year and in a glorious turn of events, CAGED Nationwide have decided to target Kinsley, ironically, one of the four tracks who pledge to home every suitable ex-racer.
JC has decided to take on Rita (Margaret) James (Joannu) or what ever the feck she’s called (sing along to this tune). He has even created an award. I couldn’t give the theme away, but here is a clue.
My thanks to my old mate Denis Haywood for pointing me in the direction of horse race tipster Hugh Taylor. The guy is incredible.
I would love to know if we have an equivalent in greyhound racing, and if so, I would love to have them as a regular on this site.
So – if you are greyhound racing’s equivalent, I would love to see proof. Alternatively, if you fancy giving me a hand to run a series of competitions, to trace down a tipster supreme, it would be appreciated.
Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Funny how you know people for years, and yet there are things about them that you never know.
Take my very good mate, Steve ‘Nasher’ Nash. The industry snapper recently let slip that he was born on Coronation Day and had a personal souvenir sent by Buckingham Palace to all kids born on that day.
Of course he didn’t say which Coronation!
The smart money suggests it was Lizzy 2 (2 June 1953), though George VI (1937) and George V (1911) have been contemplated at GWA liquid lunches.