Sunset On Sungate?

Well the Gerard Butler hearing certainly uncovered a nasty little mess and the revelations surprised many of us who thought Butler was simply being made a scapegoat for revealing the Sungate investigation.

Obviously what Butler did cannot be justified in any way, shape or form and his suggestion it was a moment of madness, quite frankly, beggars belief. He was, in my view, lucky to get away with only a five year disqualification. What he did was not only blatant cheating, it endangered the horses in his care.

At least Butler has faced the music for his actions and has been punished, which is more than can be said for the other Newmarket trainers implicated in the Sungate scandal, who have walked away from the farrago absolutely scot free.

Nine trainers used Sungate on their horses, a drug which contains an outlawed anabolic steroid. The drug was administered under veterinary advice, however the supposed rules of “strict liability” should ensure the trainers are solely responsible for what is administered to the horses in their care.

I say the “supposed rules of strict liability” because as we have now seen the strict liability is not as strict as first seems and is indeed flexible liability.

Following a detailed investigation the BHA decided to take no action against the nine trainers involved and they also declined to name the trainers, apparently after taking legal advice.

Of the nine, only Clive Brittain has come out and publicly said he is one of the investigated trainers and all credit to him for doing so. Why are the other eight so reticent in coming forward?

Part of the reason for no action being taken was a loophole in the BHA regulations which said a trainer could only be prosecuted for administering a steroid if the horse fails a dope test – in this case no horses were found with steroids in their system (apart from Butler’s of course).

Luckily the BHA are not subjected to dope testing, otherwise there would be wholesale failures – it strikes me as being an organisation populated by dopes.

So even though the drug records for the 43 horses show Sungate was administered, no action will be taken.

If I were to be cynical I would suggest this is partly to protect the BHA themselves as, by all accounts, the BHA vets were aware of the administration of Sungate when carrying out routine checks of horses medical records and said nothing. You can imagine a trainer at an enquiry raising that as mitigation.

The BHA have now closed the loophole where a horse has to test positive but that is a classic case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Was part of the reason for the BHA not pursuing the case also the inclusion of some very high profile trainers in the list of nine?

As we have already seen from the kid glove handling of Old Mo and Godolphin the BHA are very reluctant to ruffle the feathers of the “big players”.

Why are the other eight trainers not prepared to follow Brittain’s example and hold their hands up?

After all if the administration of Sungate was a genuine, honest mistake as a result of not being aware of the ingredients, what do they have to lose?

Do punters not have a right to know who the trainers are?

The names are common knowledge within the close knit racing community. I believe I know the names of six of the trainers and many know the names of all nine.

Why hasn’t any journalist had the bottle to publish all nine names?

If I knew, for sure, the names of all nine of the trainers then I would have had absolutely no compunction in naming them all, as I believe the information should be in the public domain and is of public interest.  

Will the nine eventually be named, I would like to think so but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

The Sungate nine will realise they have been very lucky indeed. I also have little doubt there will be other trainers round the country also breathing a huge sigh of relief.

I’m sure some trainers will be attending church this Sunday morning thanking their God the sport has such weak governance. After all there are sufficient rules under which some action could have been taken against the trainers, even without the presence of a positive test.

It will be interesting to see what happens next time a trainer appears before the disciplinary panel under the “strict liability” rules any lawyer worth their salt should be able to run rings round what are now strict liability when it suits us rules.  

Will the Butler hearing result in the sun setting on Sungate – many in racing will hope so – I hope not.



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