The BHA’s approach to anti-doping in British racing

31 Jan 23
Horses at the finish of a race at Aintree Racecourse

British racing has never been subject to greater media and public scrutiny than it is today.

And if we are to protect and enhance fan engagement with our sport while at the same time boosting its commercial sustainability then one thing arguably matters above all others: integrity.

Sport is nothing without integrity and in the modern age, with all sports fighting ferociously for diminishing fan and corporate spending, it perhaps matters more to our sport than any other.

Any perception that we have not properly dealt with corruption or poor governance would rightly raise questions about our ability to govern ourselves.

That is why the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) places such a premium on ensuring that racing is clean, safe and fair. The sport’s participants, as well as bettors and racegoers who follow it with such passion, have a right to expect that what they see unfold on the track is the result of the talent, heart and will to win demonstrated by each horse and their rider as well as those responsible for getting the horse to the racecourse.

As the sport’s regulator, the BHA operates a robust anti-doping regime. The doping of horses poses a threat not only to the integrity of the sport but also to equine and human welfare.

So it is right that we root out and take the appropriate action against those who seek to undermine what so many work so hard to produce.

Routine testing plays an important role in ensuring our sport is clean but the BHA’s regulatory team also relies on intelligence gathering – including from tip-offs – to ensure it is alive to all potential threats such as doping.

Such instances always call for a diligent and level-headed response. Evidence must be properly collected and analysed. A case must be built. Covert intelligence work may be required to uncover organised and potentially criminal activity.

This cannot be done quickly or casually and it is worth tackling media commentary this week (Monday 30 January) that we should adopt a different, faster, less investigative approach.

Let’s be clear: the implications for the sport of mishandling intelligence gathering or use of tip-offs are significant.

Any policy that allows for the withdrawal of a horse simply because of a tip-off is clearly unsatisfactory. It raises serious concerns about the governance of the sport – ranging from issues around betting to legal challenges from connections of horses removed on such a pretext.

In most circumstances, information is passed to the raceday officials who can then make assessments of a given horse based on their experience and professional judgement. Starters, stewards and vets, all of whom work closely with our horses every day, will monitor the behaviour and condition of a horse about which concerns have been raised before taking the necessary action.

Investigations triggered by tip-offs are extremely complex and sensitive. For the regulator to move to enforcement by withdrawing a horse from which a sample has yet even to be taken is not in the best interests of the sport‘s integrity and would only make the sport more, not less, open to malicious actors.

A question that has been asked is whether testing could be undertaken at the course, prior to a race and when a tip-off has been received. Such action fails to address the points above.

In showing its hand immediately, and in liaising with the trainer, owner and staff associated with the horse in question, the BHA may in fact be undermining the sport by alerting people potentially involved in a conspiracy.

It is also worth noting that this approach has been previously applied, and the success or otherwise is dependent on many factors. Mobile testing units and pre-race testing and analysis have been used in different jurisdictions and in different forms for decades in racing across the globe, even here in Britain. Unless sufficient time is allowed for, between sample collection and analysis, their use can be highly problematic, often unreliable, and should only ever be considered as an intelligence or preliminary screening tool. There have been examples where such a tool has been deployed and a horse withdrawn on these grounds, only for the full, post-raceday analysis to reveal no abnormalities.

Considering the above, and more, the BHA is satisfied that the policies and procedures in place in this area provide adequate protection for horses and riders in our races, while allowing for the competent regulation of the sport and prosecution of individuals who may seek to undermine it through doping.