News that the Queen’s horse, Estimate, tested positive to the banned substance morphine after finishing second in the Gold Cup has set the scandal wires humming.
That’s inevitable – but it’s also unjustifiable. I’m not a gambler, but I wouldn’t mind betting that Her Majesty, a true horsewoman in every sense of the term, has accepted the finding philosophically. There might have been the odd royal expletive, because although Estimate won’t be banned, the Queen will lose the £80,625 prize money, but it’s unlikely anyone will be sent to the Tower.
Rules and regulations on dope testing in all equestrian disciplines are necessarily strict. It’s already been announced that the culprit is ‘almost certainly’ a contaminated feed batch. Dodson and Horrell, which has held a Royal Warrant since 1985, has also announced that suppliers have highlighted a contamination issue in a batch of one of its products.
And talking about betting, what are the odds that every feed and supplement manufacturer in the country is thinking that without the grace of whatever deity you care to nominate, it could be the one under the unwelcome spotlight? No matter how careful you are, cases like this happen.
Another horse feed manufacturer, Allen and Page, has also found low levels of contamination of a raw material at its mill. The material is said to have come from the same supplier and the supplier is making an internal investigation.
Early reports suggest that the logical explanation is contamination by poppy seeds (which contain small quantities of morphine and codeine (pain-relieving drugs). They sound lovely and natural and sprinkled on bread rolls or in poppy seed cake, can do nothing worse than stick between your teeth. You’d have to eat an impossible amount to obtain any benefit or stimulating effect.
Have testing levels become so efficient that we need a dosage of common sense? Some authorities are now suggesting that in this case, there should be some leeway. Poppies are the toughies of the plant world – the reason they are such a much-loved symbol of Remembrance Day is that the poppy was the first thing to grow on devastated battlefields.
BETA UFAS NOPS accredited feed and supplement manufacturers do all they can to ensure that the risk of specified naturally occurring prohibited substances is minimised in their products. As Dodson and Horrell says in a statement, several can be found naturally in germinating barley, herbs and pasture plants, so it’s possible for a crop of feed ingredients to be contaminated.
BETA UFAS NOPS accredited feed and supplement manufacturers cannot guarantee their products are NOPS free. As a BETA spokesman has pointed out, the culprits might be a dozen poppy seeds in a two-tonne batch of feed.
Dope testing is essential for the welfare of horses. It’s also difficult to see what more could be done to prevent a case such as this one, where contamination is thought to have occurred off-site.
There’s a wonderful story about how the Queen, who famously wears a headscarf rather than a riding hat, ties an extra knot in her scarf before she sets off for a gallop. This may also be an extra knot scenario, but it would be sad if Dodson and Horrell – which carries out a lot of valuable research – pays too harsh a penalty.