Owners Sarah Oliver and Sharron Wilson have been fined 50p each by the BHA’s disciplinary panel, while Stratford racecourse was chastised for its handling of the case involving a prohibited substance.
The BHA could find no previous instance of a disciplinary panel having imposed a token fine.
The unusual punishment was dished out after the panel found Oliver and Wilson technically guilty of their horse Green Winter returning a positive test for elevated levels of TCO2 at Stratford in May 2016 but undeserving of the entry-level penalty of £1,000.
Green Winter was tested before his run in a novice hunters’ chase, with the results returning abnormally high levels of TCO2 and triggering a pre-race stewards’ inquiry. The eight-year-old’s trainer John Bryan was present but Oliver and Wilson were not, a situation the panel described as “extremely regrettable”.
Despite being the horse’s trainer, Bryan was not the responsible person under the rules of racing.
However, having told the inquiry the TCO2 positive was probably the result of Green Winter being fed bicarbonate of soda, Bryan elected to allow him to line up in the race against the advice of BHA veterinary adviser Dr Lynn Hillyer.
After being pulled up three fences from home, Green Winter returned a second sample above the permitted TCO2 threshold, breaching the rules of racing.
According to the rules, the responsible persons are answerable for any prohibited substance found in a sample, meaning Oliver and Wilson were facing a hefty fine and possible suspension from racing.
“We’ve no hesitation in accepting the account given by the owners that they did not know the detail of Mr Bryan’s regime for training and knew nothing of his administration of the prohibited substance,” said the panel it its judgement.
“We therefore hold them entirely blameless for the contravention of the rules.”
The panel strongly condemned Stratford officials for not having contacted Oliver and Wilson following the first positive test, with both having said they would have withdrawn their horse from the race had they been presented with the facts.
‘Owners were not informed’
“It’s clear to us that the communication between racecourse officials and the owners on the day was wholly inadequate,” said the panel.
“The pre-race sample identified the probable adverse finding and led to Mr Bryan attending an inquiry into that pre-race test. At that stage he was given the option to withdraw the horse, but the owners were not informed of what had taken place, nor were they given that option themselves.
“This isn’t simply a matter of poor communication between Mr Bryan and his owners – the officials at Stratford on the day should have made sure the owners were told of the finding and given the option of withdrawing the horse.
“We accept the account of the owners that, had they been given that option, they wouldn’t have run the horse. That they were kept in the dark has given rise to what we regard as an understandable sense of injustice on their part.
“We also observe it is thoroughly unsatisfactory – and adds to that sense of injustice – the BHA has taken so long to bring this matter to the present stage.”
Bryan, meanwhile, told the panel he feeds bicarbonate of soda to all of his horses as he believes it aids in the prevention of colds and, in the case of Green Winter, would help with his tendency to tie up.
The panel made no judgement regarding the intention of Bryan or the method of the administration, other than to say they were satisfied there was no suggestion of milkshaking.
‘A responsible person’
As well as issuing the fine, Green Winter was disqualified from the race, while the panel suggested the rules may be unsuitable for dealing with such issues.
“The definition of a responsible person . . . probably has its origins in the days when most horses running in point-to-points or in hunters’ chases were trained, and often ridden, by the owners,” said the panel.
“For many years, however, it has been commonplace for such horses to be professionally trained, as was certainly the case with Green Winter.
“There may still be some policy logic in maintaining a level of responsibility on the owner. However, we can see absolutely none in placing no such direct responsibility on a registered keeper such as Mr Bryan in the instant case.
“The breach of the rules here was entirely his fault and it is he who should bear responsibility for it.”
The BHA responds
A statement from the BHA in response to the case read: “The BHA is alive to the concerns raised by the disciplinary panel, and has already taken action to address some of the issues raised.
“As a result of the recent integrity review a change in organisational structure has already taken place. One of the objectives of this is to ensure the BHA is best placed to carry out the investigative and prosecutorial functions in a timely manner, which will be aided by the forthcoming implementation of a ‘fast-track protocol’.
The changes in structure, which have taken place over the last year, are enabling us to work through the small number of cases that have been carried forward from the previous structure and that should have been concluded sooner. This is almost completed. Once this is done we can concentrate on carrying out future investigations in a more efficient manner, under the new structure and protocols.”
It continued: “The process for the collection of pre-race samples has also already been adjusted, and is now consistent with international best practice. This will assist with the procedural issues that arose on the day.
“Regarding the panel’s comments concerning the rules around responsible persons, within the context of hunter chase racing, the circumstances involved in this case have led the BHA to share some of these concerns.
“It was the BHA’s intention to conclude this investigation and await the panel’s views, before considering whether any steps should be taken to address these concerns.
“While a breach of the rules was identified, we note the panel’s finding on penalty and will assess their comments with regard for the broader implications on point-to-point regulations and hunter chase racing under rules. We’ll take them on board and endeavour to learn from this case, and consider what further actions can be taken to those already put in place on various fronts.”